Hunting Season

It’s that time of year again: Hunting Season.

I greatly enjoy the exercise of taking game and will be participating in this sport again this fall.

I will also be taking a little break from writing.

As the winter months settle into place I intend to pick up the writing habit a bit more reliably, but for now, I feel it is more an effort of duty than pleasure, and so I am choosing to set my stories aside for a couple months.

See you in January, 2016,.. muse permitting.

Peace, Mike

Fall is Here!

For Emily, Thanks for the motivation.

 

The first day of fall passed a few days ago (a couple weeks at the time of this posting).

This summer was a rough one with its sheer number of sunny days, as our corner of this beautiful land didn’t receive any rain for over two months. We slowly watched the forest floor dry up until the undergrowth was all dead and as dry as tinder. Thunder showers moved through the area in July and August igniting hundreds of fires and eventually surrounding the Flathead Valley in smoke and flames.  Stage two fire restrictions were implemented (No fires at all could be lit.  Also, No machines could legally be run in the forests after 1pm). The Valley filled with smoke for many long weeks and we remained on alert for that forest fire that would threaten our home and livelihood.  Herbivores, omnivores, and ungulates constantly searched their way into the greener pastures of the watered and tended yards and onto the beaches in a hunt for anything green and digestible.

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Cedar Bay, that special place where I spend a majority of my working hours, is located in a rain-forest.  It is typically wet enough that peat moss and small plants carpet the forest floor so thickly that at any given time during the warmer months a soft herbaceous bed is readily available to lay down upon.  This mattress of living material is so welcoming during these short summer months as to provide a large and comfortable outdoor living space.  This ‘outside’ has helped us to more easily find comfort in and accept our accommodations of the 800 square foot cabin we have called home for so many years.  Though with teenagers, eventually this little cabin would prove inadequate and we would eventually have to move.

So the forest was getting dry. So dry and picked of greenery that today as I walk through these woods my feet crunch on brown debris, as dry and crunchy as peanut shells. Not a single green shoot or patch of moss can be found more than a couple feet from the stream or the lake.  Movement through the trees is impossibly noisy and stalking game will be a challenge unless we were to get a significantly wet fall.

Mature trees are also showing the stress as they shed large branches and leaves or needles in an effort to reduce their own biological responsibilities. Smaller younger trees have given up in many instances, simply dying, spotting the otherwise emerald green woods with deep brown pockmarks.

amc fall kayaks with banner

 

Eventually, with the welcome arrival of fall has come a few rain storms, cooler mornings, and a little dew. Thankfully.

The job Carrie and I perform has no daily schedule. Most days we decide what is to be done the night before or the morning of.  If it is rainy outside we frequently stay home to rest and recuperate from our very physical labors.  This summer there were no rainy days, and therefore we took no days off (other than our annual trip to Silverwood Amusement Park, although said vacation can hardly be called relaxing, I did enjoy riding the benches and bar-stools. The hiking on the paved trails took its toll on my knees this year and I returned to work as fatigued or more-so than when we’d left.  And so the summer raged on.

But now it is boat pulling season, and soon it will be leaf burning season, and then I will spend weeks sitting in the forest, listening, living, relaxing, enjoying the solitude and stillness of the woods and my body as I search for the venison to feed us through the next year. But currently, it’s boats, boats, boats!

I am thoroughly hooked on watercraft.  Our business, Home Solutions llc was created in the car as we drove back from Florida having been conceived somewhere between Graceland and Denver, CO. It is now a booming high end home care business. Fashioned after yachting in an effort to provide the level of service desired by the higher end clientele to be found in the Swan and Flathead Valley.  Now in our 16th year, I have a large number of boats in my care.  So this, to me, is boating season.. to a degree.  As I run these boats for the last time this season I will take them on short sea trials to reveal any mechanical issues that have developed over the season, and the boats are pulled after this final run and placed on trailers which I will then haul to local boat shops for service and winterizing.

The wood boats go to Somers where Steve tends to them with a learned hand and a mind to match as he has tended to wooden boats for the past 30+ years.  The ski boats, pontoon boats, jet skis, sailboats, kayaks and canoes will all be washed and dried and placed in winter storage until spring.  The outdoor furniture will be refinished as needed and secured in garage spaces and storage units.  Houses are shut down, water shut off, thermostats set, hatches battened,.. some will remain this way until spring, others will be opened briefly for Thanksgiving or Christmas visits or for a random winter vacation.  All the homes will receive frequent visits on a routine schedule to assure they are resting peacefully under the icy cold blanket of soon to be falling snow.

But today, it is boats.  70 degrees and sunny with fall colors decorating the shoreline beneath the energetic fall sunshine.  I love my work, and I can’t wait to get back to it daily. To me, there are not enough hours in the day as the duties before me fill me up and satisfy me.

With that, I am off to the beach on this most beautiful of fall days to pull a couple more watercraft.. perhaps I’ll take the long way to the boat ramp today.

Bon Voyage! (part 2 of 2)

 

(cont)

When not removing offending follicles from fiberglass flooring, I would maintain the ships systems as needed.  Oil changes, lubrication, black and grey water systems, water makers, light bulbs, and then any needed repairs.

The water makers are reverse osmosis water generators. They employ extremely high pressure pumps to push water molecules through a membrane designed to allow only particles the size of a water molecule and smaller through.  This includes viruses and thus requires the newly gathered water to be bathed in UV light to sterilize it.

Neptune-water-maker-HorizontalReverse Osmosis water system by Pacific Marine

I recall a particularly interesting repair of a failed vacuum pump on the air conditioning control system.  This was a unit with a plastic and metal case housing a small rubber diaphragm designed to oscillate, thereby creating a vacuum which controlled some aspect of the cooling system that I no longer recall.  I do however recall the repair. It was just the sort of task that I enjoy.  It was a small device about the size of my fist made of dozens of parts, some moving. I discovered the rubber diaphragm was worn out and no longer made a good seal.  I removed the diaphram and fashioned a duplicate out of a piece of leather from a glove and reinstalled it.  Once again cool air flowed throughout the boat.  Very Macgiver, and very satisfying to all of us.

Most days my duties were fairly simple. A light cleaning, a project area needing maintenance or detailing, assisting in the galley or attending some other area that needed maintenance or repair. Days were kept to an 8 hour workday generally, and the labor was manageable. Additionally, yachts are built with multiple fuel tanks, and they each carry significant amounts of fuel. As the generators ran or the boat was moved these tanks would ship their fuel to the engine room and eventually the boat would be off balance as fuel was taken from one of the 8 tanks aboard.

To maintain balance, fuel had to be transferred from one tank to another in an effort to level the boat from bow to stern and port to starboard. On this particular yacht these efforts were accomplished through the manipulation of manually operated electronic controls, requiring that I sit at the bridge monitoring a digital display while opening valves and running a pump, all controlled by switches on the bridge. Occasionally it was beneficial for me to step ashore to view her from various angles to make certain my work was effective in balancing the boat.

Carrie and I enjoyed our time aboard, we were initially given privileges to use the water toys (a pair of jet skis) and the use of the hot tub. Work progressed day by day and became routine.

The captain came to us one morning and informed us the owners had changed their policy and we could no longer play with the water toys. We were a little disappointed, but this wasn’t a big deal and we continue to  enjoy our labors. He also informed us that he and the chef were going to go to Florida for a few days and the boat was ours to maintain until they returned. Which they did a few blissful days later.

I admittedly suffered a shortcoming on this boat.  I was given the task of taking down  the flags in the evening. This I was instructed to do daily at 5 p.m, on the nose. Sometimes, (too frequently) I was so involved with my labors that I worked straight through that 5 p.m. mark and the flags would continue to wait for an additional thirty to ninety minutes. Rarely, I forgot to take down the flags all together and had headed off the boat for an evening of fun, but that did happened as well.  My bad…  On my return, I would occasionally receive a disappointed communique from the captain with the flag draped across my path. It was a priority that I did not embrace as my own, to my detriment.

By this point I had recognized that the captain enjoyed staying in his cabin playing Nintendo most days, obviously determining that it was my position to be the laborer, and his to be the captain. I accepted this a little begrudgingly, having worked on a number of similarly sized yachts, I readily recognized the inequity of this arrangement. On board the other smallish yachts on which I had worked, the captains would pitch in with the daily duties as most recognized that with such a small number of crew aboard these hundred foot yachts, efforts frequently required all hands on deck, including the captain’s, in order to complete the level of work necessary to keep the boat ship shape. So these daily bouts with Nintendo, followed by an occasional reprimand soured me a little. But I kept that to myself.

Also aboard this particular ship was a hierarchy we refer to as a ‘Captain and Admiral’ situation. We had heard of such arrangements, but this was our only experience with such a hierarchy. In an on-board/maritime chain of command, the captain was officially the head of the ship, the leader, the last word. On some ships, the captain will have a wife or a girlfriend aboard. Occasionally this wife or girlfriend can be overbearing and she actually will command the captain and crew. Sometimes quite openly. This charter yacht was one of those boats. Captain M was truly the captain, but Chef B was the Admiral, and she was obviously in charge.

603M/Y Camille, 114′ Hattaras

During our interview, while applying for this position, we had informed the captain and the chef, aka Admiral, that we were relatively new to the yachting industry and would request any direction they might be willing to give so as to perform to their desired level. They assured us they loved to train new people and would have no problem communicating appropriately. We soon found out that the Admiral delivered her communications rather aggressively and in a very demeaning manner. While the captain was indirect and passive in his communiques.  I began to avoid the Admiral, not an easy thing to do on a small boat. When we did have our tete-a-tete she was frequently condescending, I attempted to defuse this aggressive behavior by acquiescing and expressing my gratitude for her very kind directions. To no avail. She became more and more aggressive and demeaning until she was openly hostile. I just wasn’t going to get along with this gal.

We had been aboard for a few months, and while positioned beneath the overpass with all its dust and grime, I noted faxed resumes coming across the ship’s fax machine applying for the deckhand position…, My position…

I brought this to the captain’s attention and asked him if he was intending to replace me, he flatly denied seeking my replacement assuring me my position was secure, and he said he didn’t know why they kept sending him resumes, it was just a mistake on the crew agencies part he stated.

Carrie and I continued to work very hard. We were good at our jobs, aside from the flag issue, everything was done satisfactorily, as far as we knew. I could not get along with the captain’s girlfriend however, and this was to be the source of our downfall on this boat.

A couple short weeks after I had seen the resume on the fax machine the captain called me onto the bridge and informed me that he was letting us go, citing my inability to remove the flag at precisely 5pm daily as the grounds for this dismissal. I was dismayed. We were to leave the boat immediately. He also informed me that they would not be returning us to the States, but they would be casting us ashore there on Paradise Island. “get your things and get off the boat”.  I was surprised at this blunt removal of our position aboard and my mood quickly went from dismay to bitterness. Granted, the conditions aboard were socially uncomfortable, but I did not foresee the end of our employment so abruptly. I reminded the captain that maritime law required he return us to our originating port which was on the Florida coast. He quickly changed his tune and agreed to return us appropriately. I was angry by this point and Carrie was very sad and hurt. We left the boat, headed for the airport, and returned to Florida where we spent a few days staying with my sister. We determined in those few days that our yachting time should come to an end, this last experience being distasteful enough to momentarily sour us on the industry.

We adjusted our plans to return to Montana a few months earlier than we’d originally intended, having earned the amount of money we’d desired and we’d had some terrific experiences, but we felt it was time to head home. As with such things, looking back to this event, some 16 years behind us now, the timing of our departure could not have been any better.

Also looking back at our time on the ocean, we are overjoyed with the experience, the skills we’d adopted and honed, and significantly, we had made some wonderful friends. Good-hearted people who we remain in contact with to this day.  Yachting was a wonderful and growing experience for us and we’ve applied those skills effectively and gainfully in our lives over the past 16 years.

But more about that later…

 

 

 

Bon Voyage! (part 1 of 2)


 

camille-motor-yacht

Towards the end of our yachting time my wife and I were stationed aboard a 115′ Hatteras charter yacht.   We enjoyed and were adept at the duties of attending to the owners and guests needs, and also had the pleasure of a short tour of some out islands in the Bahamas.

Bahamian out islands provide a  slow paced  drowsy  lifestyle .  Drifting, bobbing,  riding the swells.  Whether docked or at anchor, the more remote Bahama destinations provided a uniquely relaxed environment .

Once our Charter was complete, It became time for us to ply the trade a bit more commercially.  That is to say, we were back to the daily grind of no guests aboard and plenty to do.

We found ourselves stationed once again on Paradise Island, near Atlantis Resort. As the tenancy of our yacht was only the captain and crew (4 of us),  we were directed to a less impressive (and less expensive) location for our dockage. We found a position in a channel beneath an active overpass. The current was strong here at times as it came in and out with the tide.  We missed being in the thick of things in Atlantis Marina.  This locale was more like parking in the alley. Add to that fact that the overpass was under heavy construction providing us with plenty of concrete dust to deal with on a daily basis.

I realize I shouldn’t play it down. After all, we were still on Paradise Island, on a yacht, in the Bahamas.  But it was definitely storage parking as yachting goes.

Carrie and I then spent the weeks to follow cleaning and repairing systems. There was plenty of work. The ship had to be detailed every day as the dust and tire debris from the overpass (which was, as I said, under construction) would float down on us coating the boat in a fine layer of white concrete dust Every Day.  Washdown became the daily morning routine.

Drag out the hose, brush, and a bucket of soapy water.

Spray down a section of the boat, brush it lightly, and rinse.

Repeat for the entire top and sides, then detail with a rag, and then wash all the windows.

Every day.

It wasn’t hard work, but it was routine and laborious.

Comparatively, when we were docked in the Marina with guests on board, a much abbreviated version of this effort was employed, generally skipping the full scrub and finishing most surfaces with a quick wipe.

Windows were always an effort, but it was a task I was up to.

Yacht washdown

All the yachts I worked on required an extreme level of cleanliness far beyond any I have experienced before or since. If an owner were to use the head, that bathroom had to be detailed and the toilet paper neatly folded in a fan immediately afterward, Every time.

If an owner walked through the salon and left footprints on the carpet, the carpet had to be re patterned with a vacuum or raked out, thereby providing virgin territory for the next high end pedestrian.

I recall one fine day while owners were aboard, I had walked down the narrow gangway outside the main Saloon. Inadvertantly I’d bumped the glass with my freshly sunblocked elbow.  The owners noted the single smudge and requested all the windows be rewashed as a result. Of course this was done, with a smile.

Another time, owners and guests were topside enjoying cocktails and chatter when word came down that a hair had been spotted on the deck. A human hair… egads…

I was called on to remove the renegade hair.  At first I thought I was being pranked, but the captain assured me this was to be my duty.

“Alright”, I said.

Determined to keep my sense of self worth, I grabbed a bucket, soap, brush, and a hose and headed up to the top deck where the soiree was ongoing, to attend to the rogue strand.

I arrived to the grins of the revelers who had no doubt expected to see a deckhand, performing under the control of his master, bow to pick up a hair, and leave.

I made my introductions, smiling broadly, and proceeded to politely ask those in attendance to raise their feet as I sprayed water, scrubbed, and rinsed the deck. Much to their delight.

When I had finished I said my goodbyes and bid them to call if I could assist them further. They didnt.

And that’s yachting for you, the owners priorities necessarily become your own.  If they don’t, yachting may not be for you.

(to be continued)

Charter Yacht

 

camille-motor-yacht

One fine day we were moving a charter yacht (a 115’ Hatteras) from one Bahamian island to another, we were on a fairly lengthy transit set to take 11 hours or so. As I had mentioned, the boat was just recently out of the shipyard and we had spent the previous few weeks getting her back into yacht-shape. During transits an ‘Engine Watch’ was performed every 30 minutes. It consisted of climbing down into the engine room via a stairway on the stern of the boat. The doors to the engine room were just inside the swim platform. They were low doors requiring an average sized person to duck slightly to get inside, though once inside standing room was adequate with a low ceiling. On my checks I would walk down into the engine room, look underneath the engines, check any gauges, smell the air, listen to the noise. If everything seemed normal I would come back up and enjoy the ride for another 30 minutes. On this particular check I didn’t even need to get to the engine room before I knew there was a problem.

As I approached the stern of the boat, I looked behind us and saw a bright sheen of oil fanning out across an otherwise pristine stretch of the Caribbean Sea. The view was like something out of an environmentalists advertisement. The type of ad where they make you sorry to be alive because humans are wrecking everything.    A beautiful tropical island off the starboard quarter, bright blue sunshine, calm ocean waters, a pristine white yacht gliding along through green ocean so clear it looked only a few feet deep, and fanning out behind was a rainbow oil slick.

I immediately informed the captain by radio as I entered the engine room and was hit with a wall of diesel fumes. He cut the engines and we quickly discovered the bilge was sloshing full of diesel fuel, the intercooler on one engine had leaked, (an intercooler is a radiator system that brings the fuel to the proper temperature as it enters the engine), it had sprung a leak spewing diesel across the front of one engine and down into the bilge. I activated a stripping line, (this was a suction line that was strong enough to pull a soft shell crab into the garden-hose sized line, something I had seen with my own eyes). I shut off the bilge pumps and placed the stripping line into the diesel fuel and began sucking it into the dirty water tank on board. Once a majority of the diesel fuel had been removed from the bilge, cleanup began. Diesel fuel is terribly dirty stuff, very oily. I soaped up the bilge with Joy dish detergent, (still the best thing I know for cutting grease), I scrubbed what I could, sucked up the waste into the dirty oil tank, and we limped back to port on one engine.

Once we reached Nassau, we contacted stateside engineers who came out to affect repairs. This took them a day and a half. They were flown out immediately and once the repairs had been affected, we set out to sea with the engineers on board for a sea trial. A couple hours later we’d determined everything was working fine and the repair was holding well. It was time to take the engineers back to shore. This was to be my choice duty, and an enjoyable event that I shall never forget.

I set out with the engineers on a 30 foot Scarab, fired up the dual 250 hp outboard’s and we headed for Nassau. I brought them into the dock that we had left earlier that day, they hopped off, engines still running, we said a quick goodbye, and now came the joyride of my life!

wellcraft30-500

I had a set of coordinates the captain had given me for a rendezvous on the open water. I was to use the onboard GPS, (a much less advanced version of what we have now on our smart phones), this one displayed only coordinates and a compass heading. I headed out into the open ocean on this relatively small watercraft, alone. An hour later I was out of sight of land, out of radio contact and still blazing along enjoying every second and thrilled by the solitude and desolation of the open sea around me.  I shut off the engines and drifted for a time. Taking in the moment, that place and time. Alone on the ocean, for real. It was wonderful.

Eventually I started the engines, took a bearing and checked the gps, fixed the sun in the sky, and I headed off again.  I made site of the yacht before dark and rejoined her without incident for a few somnolent days and nights at some of the more remote dockages and moorings the Bahamas has to offer.

I have kept those few moments of being alone on the ocean close to my heart since then. I still taste it on occasion when I am far enough south on Swan Lake on my sailboat. The south end of the Swan doesn’t have cell service, and if I camp down that way all I have is a handheld marine radio that may not reach home base, If anyone were even monitoring it.

I enjoy being alone, it suits me to a degree.  No expectations, no distractions. I enjoy that feeling, and I’d received a huge dose of it just then, out on the ocean, bobbing silently.  Just for a short time there was nothing I was doing, no chance someone would need me, no sounds of another person and nobody could hear me no matter how loud I yelled.  I was even out of radio contact.  I think there is an energizing strength in solitude. There is something about being alone on the open ocean that feels really very small, and that’s not bad. There’s a sense of perspective that I gained on the open ocean. It’s really big out there. bigger than anywhere I’d ever been.

Horizon to horizon, nothing but water.

I found it appealed to me greatly and I certainly look forward to experiencing it again.

 

 

Blackbird down!..and up again

 

 

The rythmic thumping of the helicopters blades preceded it’s arrival as the cool morning air transmitted the ever expanding and ever dissipating pressure waves created by the circling bars of metal. Like a pebble in a pond these waves spread through the otherwise silent morning air bouncing off the mountains and trees, building and cancelling, rhythmic and varied. The amplitude of these impacts increased as the machine glided on it’s spinning wing towards the now dry and dead pasture.
“Now you can hear it” intoned the Boss.
“Here she comes!” a guest added excitedly, eyes to the tree line.
A bright eyed tow-headed young boy began to jump with expectation. He was promised a seat on this flight and his excitement could be measured in inches as his feet left the ground over and over.
Cameras were raised and the moment was captured as a gorgeous Bell 429, Black with Gold pin-striping, sporting the West Point mascot proudly beneath the rotors center glided over the treeline like a superhero.

The aircraft appeared over the treetops, moving slowly, gliding in to softly touch down on the gentle groomed slope of the pasture.  Effortlessly removing my hat on its way down.

West point mascot

 

Well today was a big day. After many days of preparation, a helicopter tour was commencing in the 100 year old pasture which had been cleared in this rain forest long ago, for horses long since passed.
Our county, along with many in northwest Montana, is currently under stage 1 fire restrictions due to the lack of precipitation. It hasn’t rained much at all this spring or summer so far.  What rain has fallen has dissappeared into our often single digit humidified air.  It is bone dry here.

Many days of preparation were required to make certain that we didn’t start a grass fire, leading to a forest fire, potentially leading to our eviction from the neighborhood. The process began with a significant mowing performed in the early morning when dew should have been present, but wasn’t.  The cooler temperatures gave me confidence that I wouldn’t start a fire during this morning operation. A large clearing was carved from the two foot tall, mostly dead grass, as a welcome mat and perch for the Bell’s arrival, still days away at this point. Then the watering began.



20150726_093811

Conveniently, the owners of this particular Lodge have their own fire truck, it is a 1981 Utah LaGrange on a 4×4 Ford chassis carrying a 1000 gallon tank and engine.  It’s red, of course. Initially I had planned to use the 1 1/2 inch hose reel to spray down this nearly one acre patch, but after a few minutes I realized that would take a lot longer than was necessary.  I found that by aiming an unemployed connection on the top right side of the truck I was able to splash water off the hose rack in a spraying arc as I drove the truck around in overlapping circles like the world’s largest sprinkler. Accomplishing a full watering and dumping of the 1000 gallons in under 10 minutes time and leaving the dusty ground and dead grass stubble quite adequately soaked.

Monday was to be our launch date, but that appointment was delayed by two days due to inclement weather. Finally! Rain! It lasted all day Monday, and part of Tuesday. And here we are Wednesday, at 6:30 a.m. and I find myself in the pasture reaching down into bone dry grass and soil. Even after all that rain, still no morning dew.

The helicopter arrived promptly at 7 a.m. setting down to the great delight of all present. Hands were shaken, and approximatly 20 minutes of photographs were taken as introductions were made and stories were told.

One interesting bit that came out of all the talk was that this particular aircraft was recently flown from Kalispell, Montana to a movie set in Florida (a 14 hour flight), where it was filmed, measured, and digitally reproduced to be used in the next Iron man movie.  To be clear, the helicopter was never flown in the film.  Upon arrival to Florida a team of technicians descended on the aircraft to the chagrin of the pilot, with lasers and cameras to record every dimension and angle so as to be digitally regenerated as needed.  So remember, when you see Mr Downey jr riding around in his helicopter, know that it never really happened,.. through the use of CGI and a green screen, no actors were required to leave earth for that film.

Back in the pasture: Once the champagne and coffee has been dispensed by the accommodating pilot and seating arrangements made, the fortunate voyagers climbed aboard, settling into the finely crafted leather interior of the Bell 429 for a 2 hour tour around the valley.  A safety talk was delivered and the doors were closed and latched.

The turbine started with a woosh much like when a gas bbq is lighted, and the rotor began to spin.  It took about 5 minutes for the preflight and warmup and as the rythmic whir and thump deepened the skids became light on the earth, and ever so gracefully and gently the machine lifted into the air.

liftoff landing side view

Glacier Park is currently on fire, and so their intended flight path over that beautiful piece of geography would have to wait for another day.

With the tour underway, I occupied my landborn time tending to my duties. Watering the dock flowers and fueling some boats.

In the distance, just before 9am, the rythmic whap whap whap once again beat off the mountainsides and bays. The helicopter returned with a similar flare and grace. Landing neatly in the space prepared.  The guests climbed off, all smiles, with heads full of new perspective.

The young blond fellow had slept through a portion of the trip, unable to defend against the somnolent drone of his carriage, and he exited the craft with a big grin and with a full run launched into his waiting mothers arms to the delight of them both.

Pilot Mike returned to his craft and with a wave departed like a superhero in a movie,  equally impressive as a real life Black Knight.

Thank you Mike and The Glacier Jet Center for delivering on an amazing charter.  It is another great day to remember.

 

Thank you for your interest in my blog.

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A Day at the Races part 2

I’ve come to grips with the fact that in the proper setting, other people’s discomforts provided me with enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like seeing someone in pain, but without another‘s injury, I cannot do my job. The worse a person is injured, (up to a point), the more creative and exciting my work environment becomes. l have used the following statement to avoid being labeled a sadist. “I don’t wish anyone any harm, but if it happens, I want to be there”. This seems to get the point across fairly clearly.

Back to Jerry and the opportunity. A collapsed lung is a potentially life threatening injury and one which can present very quickly in an otherwise mildly injured patient. There are signs which, when recognized in time, can lead to a very exciting series of actions.

“Jerry, I need to put these ‘soft safety restraints’ around your wrists, you appear to have punctured your lung. I can help you but it won’t be very comfortable.”

I took a long strand of gauze bandage and doubled it over looping it around Jerry’s wrist and tying the end to the rail on the cot. I explained to Jerry what I was planning to do in between his increasing complaints of ‘I can’t breath’.

“I’m going to attempt to re-inflate your lung by releasing the air that has gotten trapped in your chest.” I informed him.

Jerry seemed to be listening; his half-closed eyes opened a little wider. I finished securing his other wrist to the cot and was checking the belts that held his body to the backboard and cot as I delivered the punch line.

“I’m going to have to put a needle between your ribs and into your chest. It’s going to hurt, but you will be able to breath easier when it’s done.”

Jerry had stopped telling me how hard it was to breath and was now just blowing the Sweet smelling air from his lungs in rapid shallow breaths, watching me.

held his body to the backboard and cot as I delivered the punch line. “I’m going to have to put a needle between your ribs and into your chest. It’s going to hurt, but you will be able to breath easier when it’s done.” Jerry had stopped telling me how hard it was to breath and was now just blowing the sweet smelling air from his lungs in rapid shallow breaths, watching me.

I was nervous as this was my first time performing this procedure. I tried to act calm and confident. I also kept the needle out of his sight, which was easy considering he was immobilized to a backboard with his head taped down tight and a stiff collar around his neck. I too began to sweat.

I cleaned the side of his chest with alcohol swabs and then with betadine antiseptic, staining the skin yellow brown. I removed the needle from its pack, two and a half inches long, a ten gauge, as big as a ten penny nail.

“You’re going to feel a sharp poke.” An understatement to be sure.

I could feel the sweat on my forehead. Jerry started screaming as I pierced the skin with the bright steel, remembering the words of all those who had attempted to prepare me for this day. Steady pressure. and as quickly as you can to lessen the discomfort.

Jerry yelled, “You’re killing me!! You’re killing me! !” Over and over he said this.

I pushed, marveling at how much pressure was actually required to push a round steel shank through a relatively thin area of tissue. As I pushed, Jerry continued yelled ‘you’re killing me! You’re killing me!’ over and over, as if I didn’t have enough going on, this guy has to yell at me!?. I stopped for a moment, the needle through the skin but not yet quite where it needed to be. I brought my face directly in front of his. The sweat on his brow mimicking my own.

“No sir,” I said with a calm I didn’t really feel, “I’m saving your life.” There are just some set-ups that are just too good to pass up.

Jerry stopped his screaming and concentrated on breathing, I returned to my tool protruding from between Jerry’s ribs, the 4th and 5th, axially, and pushed once again. A sudden decrease in pressure and a small bit of escaping air, not the high-pressure whoosh I had imagined. Jerry gave a grunt and then continued his breathing, which seemed to come easier over time. I secured the catheter to his chest with tape and gauze and fixed a one way valve to the end of it, allowing air to only escape and not enter, and allowing Jerry’s lung to re-inflate itself.  No more yelling, no more complaints.  We rode in relative silence as I monitored my patient for any changes.

Mary and I delivered Jerry to the emergency room and collected the pats and encouraging words we’d earned for doing that rarely performed and fearful procedure. Jerry was moved to another bed off our pram and we were given our leave of him after gathering all the necessary signatures and handing on the required reporting paperwork.

I still enjoy a good horse race from the stands. Though sometimes I feel like I’m missing something.

A Day at the Races part 1

Today I determined to pack up and take a trip back down memory lane to my days as a Denver medic nearly 20 years ago..

 

A Day at the Races

Standby at the horse races was a unique duty. If you liked horses and racing, you might enjoy it. However, if you didn’t care for either, you didn’t stand a chance.

The horse racing industry had developed a standard for emergency response that placed the ambulance as close to the potential victims as possible. The infield of a horse racing track tended to be very well kept, decorated with fountains and brand new cars, (obviously placed there for a fee, by a dealer hoping the days winners would want to buy one of their cars). This area was off limits to an ambulance, their heavy load being much too destructive to the manicured lawn. A steel pipe fence surrounded the inside and outside of the track in an effort to keep the high-strung race animals contained.  This left only the race track itself as a possible staging area for a crew and their vehicle. Someone in the ‘planning-for-the-worst’ department determined the best possible place to stage, would be directly behind the horses… always.

“There’s the bell!! And they’re off! ”

The gates flew open and the jockeys raised up slightly, legs tense, leaning hard over the necks of the straining horses beneath. The animals began to work together, horse and rider. The horses had been raised to run. Programmed to bolt at the opening of the gate, the bell adding a sense of urgency to their launch. A shock of a riding crop and the small weight on there backs being an annoyance that would only encourage their all out thrust to an even greater limit.

Faster, always faster!

The horses exited the gate simultaneously,  while slightly behind and to the right, as if the gate and bell and sting of the crop weren’t enough they could hear a rumble building to a growl and right behind them. (did they even notice us?) As the hyped animals entered the first turn of the track the growl from behind could be heard to drop a bit farther back, but still it was close. Close enough to hear despite the thunder of the animals all around, despite the sting and the coarse words of encouragement.

“Careful around this turn.” my partner said.

The four wheel drive van, higher than most and carefully altered in the most inexpensive way, entered the banked curve. The track was made of soft dirt, turned between every race to provide a fair racing surface to all participants, at the same time creating a very low traction environment for anything with wheels, including our ambulance. Each race was similar, the fastest horse would win, and the ambulance would come in dead last. The idea being that if a rider were to fall the ambulance would be right there, not even requiring the time to drive the quarter mile around the track, a time period questionably worth the fuel and effort involved. I never saw a rider fall, but I ran many a horse race, round after round, as many as 14 races in a day. All four wheels grabbing for traction, the ambulance sliding slightly sideways through the curves, the engine roaring, always and dutifully finishing last. Easily the best part of a horse race in my opinion.

This was not a race day however. My partner Mary and I were driving through southwestern Aurora wishing something bad would happen so we would have something to do.

“204”

“204, Iliff and Quebec”

“Copy 204. Code three, Arapahoe race track, on a man down”

“Copy, code three, Arapahoe race track”

“That’s correct, security will be on scene to guide you in, appears to be a head injury in the horse stall.”

“Copy that”

I turned to Mary, “Cool! A long hot run.”

It was fun driving lights and sirens, and the only thing that would have made this better would have been more traffic. Traffic provided obstacles which was a more interactive and adrenaline inducing exercise. I reached over and flipped on the lights. Light bar- click, flashers- click, strobes and headlights- click, click. Then turned the knob on the siren to wail.

This ambulance had a nice siren, by placing the knob in between settings a high pitched squeal could be created which may or may not have been more effective at notifying other drivers we were coming, but this sound was different from the usual and therefore, fun to do. Pushing down on the accelerator I pulled into the oncoming lane of traffic and through the intersection we had been waiting to cross, enjoying the privilege of getting to go while others had to wait. We found a Straight route out of town and headed onto the country roads that would take us the 20 miles to the track, pushing the ambulance towards its limit of 70- mph downhill, 55 up. We arrived at the track to find security waiting to guide us in through the main gate and through the maze of a parking lots to the rows of horse barns nearby. We pulled off the paved lot and onto the graveled road that led in between the long steel buildings that provided services for the jockeys and stable workers, some restrooms, a cafeteria and a business office for the horse and track owners and officials.

Pulling up to a stall midway down the third row, a frenzied group of bystanders let us know we were in the right place. One man came running up to my partner’s door as she stepped out.

“He’s waking up!” The bystander hollered, providing us with a clue that at one time he was possibly unconscious.

“Good.” We both replied, smiling.

On many scenes I’ve found that a bystander or responder will have had a contact with the patient and by doing so will have laid a sort of ‘claim’ on them. Along the lines of counting coup, a practice by the Plains Indians in which an unarmed warrior or juvenile would ride or run through the battlefield rapping victims with a coup stick in order to gather strength and power from the fallen enemy and to show their own bravery. These ‘claimants’ of the victim can sometimes be a valuable source of information, maybe having seen the incident, thus immediately bestowing a manner of status on themselves, eg. “I saw it happen” said proudly, head up and back straight. Other times this person can be a hindrance, failing to ‘bow out’ at the proper cue or demanding recognition for their actions, “I helped them! I pulled them out! I helped!!” “Yes, yes you did. Thank you…”

In this case the bystander was of the more helpful and informed kind.

“I think he got kicked in the head. He drinks a lot. The boss told him to stop but he still drinks. ”

“Do you know if he has any medical problems?” As I approached I saw a man in his early 50’s seated in the dirt of a horse stall, the horse had been removed. The man was awake and his color was good. His breathing was short and shallow, but he did not look ‘sick’.

“Not that I know of.” Replied the helpful bystander.

Although I was close enough to the patient for him to have answered my question himself, he seemed content with the answer provided and did not offer more. I leaned down in front of the man who told me his name was Jerry. I felt his pulse, strong, not too fast. As he said the word I caught the sweet smell of alcohol on his breath. ‘Yes, he‘s had a few’, I thought. I turned to Mary and told her of the current plan. Backboard, 02, IV. EKG. On further exam it was discovered Jerry had chest pain and no memory of what had happened to him.

“Jerry, what happened to you?”

A slightly slurred response, “I don’t know.”

A further investigation of his discomforts combined with the visual clues helped develop a theory. Jerry had been cleaning a stall standing behind a typically high strung steed when the horse, lamenting its poor choice of career, had lashed out a hoof, catching Jerry either in his head or his chest and throwing him into the post at the rear of the stall where Jerry struck his chest or his head, and then had crumpled to the ground, possibly unconscious.

Jerry’s chest pain appeared centered around a reddish area on the right side of his chest over the 7“’ and 8“’ ribs. I made the determination to transport non-emergent to Swedish Medical Center, the closest hospital and still 30 minutes away. We loaded up quickly and headed out of the race park.

About ten minutes out Jerry began complaining he was having trouble catching his breath. His breath sounds were difficult to hear as he was only taking short, shallow breaths. He had begun to sweat slightly and I thought his breath sounds were a little less audible on the right side than they should have been.  This could indicate that when the hoof had struck Jerry, or Jerry the post, he possibly fractured a rib and punctured a lung. Bad for Jerry but providing me with a golden opportunity.

I leaned forward into the cab. “Better step it up to code three. ”

 

 

Atlantis!

atlantis on nassau
Atlantis on the Island of Nassau, Bahamas

 

Atlantis is the single greatest resort I have ever experienced. It is extravagantly amazing to put it mildly. At this point Carrie and I were still aboard the 115’ Broward. We arrived on Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas shortly after Atlantis had been completed and was newly opened. It was simply amazing. Atlantis is truly a wonderland for the wealthy. It was our good fortune that the casino was still spotted with nickel slot machines. There were others ranging up to five dollar slots, but it was the nickel slots that I truly appreciated, they being affordable to Carrie and I as at the time we restricted ourselves to a weekly entertainment budget of $40.

Our current duty had us set to be spending a few months at this amazing resort, in the marina no less! Extravagance here was evident everywhere we looked, it was over-the-top, and we enjoyed it very much. Liberal use of marble, colored glass, brass, and other metals of all types created an opulent playground populated by craps tables, roulette wheels, dining areas and lounges in true casino form. Then there were the slot machines. I like slot machines. The game is easy, it’s fun to do together while chatting and drinking, and the payouts are a semi-regular celebration. That is to say, they seem to payout in intervals. Not always large, but these machines were paying out fairly frequently. A month or so into our stay the nickel slots were replaced with quarter slots. We were sorry to see them leave. Not only did it affect the time we could spend playing (the house generally took our $40) but it also spoiled us for the nickel slots. Eventually Atlantis brought back a few nickel slots but after playing quarter machines these no longer delivered the thrill we sought.

A large part of Atlantis was their aquariums, they were all brand spanking new and beautiful and gigantic and full of wonderful tropical scenery. While we were moored in line with a number of other yachts, rumors were rampant on who was attending the resort with us. Michael Jackson rented three floors and the sky bridge between them. Oprah Winfrey was in residence, and held her show at the resort while we were there. While walking through the hallway one day I was astounded at the size, height, and entourage of Stevie Wonder!  Walking past them in the hall was like piloting a dinghy past the Disney cruise ship.

Our days at Atlantis were spent with routine cleaning and maintenance of the yacht, nothing unusual or out of hand. The pay was not as high on this yacht as it had been on some others, but the atmosphere was also a bit more relaxed. Dinners aboard were still an extravagant affair, catered and festive with gold and silver detailed flatware, finely polished silverware and crystal glasses. The levels of opulence were evident, but with it there was an air of relaxed ease to the ship. On this boat Carrie and I shared separate quarters due to crew and their needs. Facilities were scarce on this particular smaller of yachts.
Our time at Atlantis aboard the Broward was enjoyable, but as they were to be heading north to the Great Lakes soon and we did not wish to accompany them desiring instead to look for something a bit more lucrative and tropical to spend our next few months on.

 

atlantis marina 3
Atlantis Yacht Marina. aka Yacht Village

 

As we applied for our next shipboard position aboard a 115’ Hatteras (unbeknownst to us at the time, it was to be our last), we had gotten pretty good at the game and negotiated a very good wage as the ship had just come out of the shipyard for some extensive engine work and the exterior was covered in overspray from nearby paint jobs gone wild.  It would be my initial duty to remove that paint from her once gleaming sides.  In our interview with the captain and admiral (his girlfriend/chef), we indicated our relative lack of experience being just over a year and despite that, we had good references and we presented ourselves well thereby justifying our desire for high pay. They both agreed heartily that they enjoyed training new crew and very much looked forward to employing and training us, further encouraging us to contact past crew members for indications on what work aboard might entail. We did so, locating an old deckhand by the pool at a nearby apartment complex we chatted with him about our intended employment and were advised to “ask for more money, no matter what they are offering, ask for more”. I passed on this concern to the captain with a glint in my eye and he looked quite surprised, “Really?” he asked. I assured him that is what was said, but that we would be alright with them paying “more than they had ever paid anyone before”.
And so our adventure began on this 115′ Hatteras charter yacht.

This yacht was to be a little difficult socially from the standpoint that ‘passive aggressive’ was the rule of the day with the captain and with his admiral.  Work aboard was to be heavy at times, especially being just out of the shipyard. Carrie and I happily shared a cabin aboard and enjoyed a good amount of downtime balanced by a fair amount of seagoing adventure including a charter and a visit from the yachts owners. We lasted 3 months aboard, long enough to achieve our financial goals and once our time aboard was up we would be through with yachting.

 

One Wrong Turn

 

11 Broward
110′ Broward

 

We eventually found longer term employment aboard a 110 foot Broward by a very nice older gentleman who happened to own his own amusement park somewhere in Michigan. He spent his time in the winter months aboard his yacht in Ft Lauderdale making the occasional crossing to the Bahamas.  This was a 15 hour trip for a yacht traveling at it’s maximum speed of 11 knots (12.7mph).  in the summer months the crew would take the ship up the East Coast through Canada and then down to the Great Lakes where his summer-time business resided.
His crew was low-key, his boat was not overly done, again we found mid-westerners won out as the nicest folks to work for and with.  I was employed as deckhand/engineer and Carrie filled the bill admirably as chef and stewardess. His girlfriend, in whom he had invested some serious upgrades, was very kind. She and Carrie would take her matching Jaguar to the grocery store to provision and to pick up the dry cleaning at times, and they seemed to enjoy each others company quite a lot. The captain aboard this vessel was a very kind easy going gentleman with whom I got along greatly. He was also an experienced drinker, and our workdays ended at 4:30 regularly. It was on this yacht that I first cut my teeth as a pilot.

One dark evening, we were transiting from the Florida coast to the Bahamas. Headed for Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas.  This was a lengthy trip, and the captain was in need of some down time.  He gave me a quick rundown of the controls. “Follow this heading, watch this radar screen, if you need me just pull back on the throttles and I’ll come right up, nothing happens fast out here.”  I settled in to drive my first yacht!  It was exciting and exceedingly dull at the same time.   Nothing happened for the first few hours.  It was perhaps 3a.m. and I’d been watching a small dot on the radar get closer and closer to the center, but could see nothing out the windscreen but blackness. The yacht rose and fell rhythmically, the thrum of the engines and the sound of water rushing by at 11 knots being the only sensory input for hours now.  This particular yacht also had a fly-bridge, a duplicate set of controls on the top deck from which the yacht could be operated.  I went topside to see if I could see anything from up there.  The night was clear and calm. I thought I could see a faint white light far off in the distance.  I went back down to the bridge and continued to watch the radar for any change. The little green dot on the radar kept inching closer to the center. I had neglected to ask for a sense of scale for the radar, so I didn’t know how far away the little white light was, though it was now clearly visible.  The light appeared to be laying on the water dead ahead, though I could not tell how far away as it appeared unmoving and did not change in intensity.  The minutes ticked on.. and on..   The little green dot on the radar was very near the center now, but the white light in front of me still remained unmoving as it had for the past hour or more..  But wait,.. it gradually began to rise up off the water, more quickly with the passing seconds, until it rose high up in front of me.  I recognized this must be a ship, and it appeared to be bearing straight down on us!  I ran to the fly-bridge as the light continued up and up, directly in front of us.  I became convinced whatever it was would run us over, and it was clearly up to me to do something about it.  There was no time to alert the captain for instruction, so I threw the wheel hard to port and cut the engines a few moments later.  (this was exactly the wrong move I found out later, I believe now that I had turned our yacht directly into the path of the other ship).

Bahamian water tanker
Bahamian water tanker, provides Andros Island with fresh water daily.

 

30 seconds after my bad move a tanker passed close by our starboard side.  The radio crackled in broken English, “Absolute stupid” said a disembodied voice from the now again-empty ocean.   I had narrowly missed being crushed by a tanker employed to take water to and from the islands.  If I had held my course I now believe we would have passed, quite closely, but I imagine that was the other captains intention.  I still feel considerable anxiety at my amateur response and the near calamity that I would have been responsible for. Our captain came up on deck in response to my actions. By then the tanker was out of sight. He made a small effort to calm me with a few words and adjusted our heading, once again turning the yacht back over to me and retiring below.  Carrie had also come up to see what was happening.  It was now a little after 4 a.m.  I asked her to sit with me for a bit until my nerves settled.  We were very lucky that I had made my improper turn early enough to avoid an impact.  I could have killed us all with that one wrong move, and it haunts me to this day.