Lunch in the Deep End

 Memories of St Augustine.

deep endSwimming pool / restaurant, St. Augustine, Fl


One day, not so long ago, I found myself having lunch in a swimming pool. A reuban and potato salad in a small restaurant set in the deep end of a 100 year old, long drained, concrete pool in St Augustine, Florida.  It had been built when concrete was a fairly new material.  I had a fine lunch, though as I recall the sandwich was a bit small, the salad was fantastic, and I had tried vinaigrette for the first time, finding it delicious.

Just ten years earlier I had been walking a corridor in Cobleigh Hall at Montana State University when I was approached by a shorter, soft looking woman of middle age. She had her hair wrapped in a loose bun and balanced precariously on top of her head. Her half glasses were set on the tip of her nose and chained securely around her soft, slightly wrinkled neck.

“Excuse me” she intoned, playing on my years of conformity and successfully gathering my attention with her slightly nasally school marmish tone. “I believe this is yours”.

She handed me a large manila envelope.

“Uh, thanks”, I replied.

She clopped away down the hall, Mission Accomplished.

I shifted the book laden pack on my back and opened the envelope. There, printed on false parchment was the document I had feared for nearly six years. A non-commutable sentence, sealed with a rubber stamp, condemning me to the real world… my diploma.


It you spread your arms wide enough and allow the draft of chance and fortune that blows through all of us to pick you up,

and if you’re brave enough to go untethered,

it will send you fluttering, seemingly without direction,

but ultimately with destination.


I could never have foreseen the ultimate destinations of my decisions, the results of my daily choices, the connect-the-dots pathway of my life.

Day by day, options are presented, and are accepted or dismissed, for all of us. Even minor choices can send us hurling down alternate life paths. I find myself grateful, daily, for these choices, both those I’ve seized and those I’ve ignored.


While cutting my yachting teeth traveling the Caribbean and Sargasso Seas, Carrie had been picking up short trips to the Bahamas and worked on a number of yachts pulling Stewardess, Chef, and catering duties. As my waterborne residence and duty pulled alongside the causeway in Jacksonville, Florida on the St John’s River, Carrie met our ship, and once docking was complete, she and I headed off for a few days of vacation time together to enjoy our first wedding anniversary in St Augustine, Florida. “Our nation’s oldest town” founded in 1565!

Flagler collegeFlagler College, St. Augustine, Fl


We arrived in St Augustine on a June day, it was beautifully tropical and, though bustling, it still had a sense of a small town. It was easy to get about. Horse drawn carriages were for hire and narrow cobblestone streets were lined with shops. We visited Castillo de San Marcos, Flagler College, and enjoyed exploring the town and discovering its history together. It was every bit the pleasant tourist destination.

Castillo de San Marcos (Saint Marcos Castle) was a fort strategically placed on the ocean to protect the settlement of St Augustine. It was built of large blocks cut from sedimentary stone which had been formed by eons of tiny sea creatures that had washed together into great piles, eventually becoming as stone. This stone was strong and relatively light, composed of a lattice of calcium laden shells and structures with air spaces between. It was a uniquely appropriate product for a defensive wall as when cannonballs would hit them (as they sometimes did) the wall would give easily, dispersing the energy as the tiny skeletal remains collapsed, catching the cannonball like a padded catcher’s mitt and isolating the damage to a small point of impact only. We saw a few holes visible in the outside of the walls where this had happened. We enjoyed spending hours walking all about this castle, now a tourist attraction.

I had learned a year earlier, amongst the details of our wedding, that it is sometimes customary to keep the top of the wedding cake to be enjoyed a year later on the first anniversary.

As we were quite removed from this cake top, a bit of coordination was required to achieve this goal. The cake top had been stored in my parents’ freezer, and was to be shipped to us in St Augustine. This duty had fallen to my father. He tends to be overly analytical and unusually frugal at times, and as he was shipping a frozen cake from Montana to Florida we’d requested it be overnighted in the hopes it would arrive in edible condition, and on time. He’d made the decision to second day air it as the cost of overnight shipping seemed exorbitant to him. This caused a slight delay in the cakes arrival and a bit of consternation for, and joking between Carrie and I. The cake eventually arrived, still mostly frozen and in good condition. We enjoyed it a day late, delicious all the same.

Henry Flagler was an 1880’s entrepreneur. As a partner of John D Rockefeller, and having raised himself up from a poor son of a New York pastor, Flagler had built himself an empire. He traveled to Florida and was enthralled with the idea of converting St Augustine, at the time a sleepy little Spanish style town, into a playground for the rich. He was also intrigued by the use of concrete, and constructed a number of hotels and structures in the town out of concrete. These hotels are now known and operated as Flagler College. Mr Flagler continued his efforts of building railroads and concrete structures down the Florida coasts all the way to the Keys and his influence remains.  Henry Flagler’s infatuation with concrete, railroads, and Florida are worth further reading.  I enjoyed the following article.

After too few days together, it was time for me to return to dry-dock in Jacksonville to finish out my time aboard. Carrie went back to temporary employment aboard a number of other yachts and we would continue to actively seek another shipboard position together.





A Big Splash, and a Tasty Task

yacht with helicopterMega Yacht


Wait! Wait!

The hot tub on the stern deck was a work of engineering. It took all day to fill, even with the water makers chugged away constantly on board making fresh water from the brine beneath using the shipboard reverse osmosis generators. RO generators used extremely high pressure to force the many-times-filtered seawater through extremely fine membranes that allowed only water molecules through, and very little else. The water was then treated with ultraviolet light to kill any remaining threats to our health and digestion. Fresh water was always plentiful, thanks to the ‘behind the scenes’ efforts of engineering. We all took it for granted. When it came time to fill the hot tub, fresh water use and creation was monitored closely. Filling was timed around peak usage. Once full, the tub had to be heated. Large pumps and heaters were employed to bring the now pure water up to a pleasant swimmable temperature. Over-sized jets fed the tub and could be directed and adjusted to create a steady current to swim against, creating an endless swimming exercise, or could be aimed and increased to create a tremendous whirlpool. Air could also be introduced into the jets with underwater lights to create a perfect spa-like atmosphere. During my seven months on board this particular ship, the crew enjoyed this luxury once, and I could have done without it. My time at the pool was the site of an unpleasant incident, the event sticks with me as a stumble.

hot tub on yacht deckMega Yacht Hot Tub

We had been enjoying some down time on deck. Much of the crew and the captain’s wife, who is also the head stewardess, were all on deck enjoying some sun, cocktails, a little swimming, and lounging. I had just joined the crew on deck, happy for some downtime and camaraderie.

The captain’s wife was always very sweet. She was a caring lady who ran and managed the stewardesses and interior work efficiently and without incident as far as I could tell.
As I approached the hot tub with the crew lounging about, the captain’s wife rushed me to shove me in.

“Wait! Wait!” I cried. Holding my pager aloft, indicating that I did not wish for it to get wet. She paused in her assault and I handed her my pager and steadied myself for her shove. She took a couple steps back and then a couple rapid steps towards me with her hands extended. The only defense I can claim is that habitual action had taken over. ( It seems I may have picked up a thing or two in aikido class after all.)  I sidestepped, bringing one foot behind me and twisting away slightly, I grabbed her by the wrist and upper arm, and using her momentum, assisted her past me and on into the tub, effortlessly.

She still had the pager in her hand as she went under, and as she came up with a surprised look in her eyes, I was chagrined. The pager was of course ruined, and worse than that, I had pushed the captain’s wife into the hot tub. Also, not my proudest moment. I don’t recall the remainder of that afternoon as being very relaxing.

Choice Duty

seranella limo 3Serenella Limousine

The ship was magnificent in every way, the water toys were top notch, and the owners tenders were two Serenella-style Venetian luxury limousines tucked neatly into the sides of the aft portion of the ship. Extremely elegant watercraft and a storage and launch procedure that would make a space-station jealous.  Large sections of the aft sides of the ship would swing up and outward revealing storage for these 30 foot watercraft, which were then lifted and carried out over the ocean on dedicated cranes. One was a limousine, the other a convertible. Both extremely fine wooden boats and powered by beautifully kept duel Volvo engines.
I was given the choice duty one day of replacing an impeller in one of these Volvo marine engines. Not a big job, but a tasty one.

I was ecstatic to get my hands on such a fine piece of hardware. I gathered the appropriate tools, climbed up and into the engine compartment and settled myself in for the effort. I placed clean rags strategically about to catch both debris and parts. This project has stuck with me, not for any mishap or tragedy, but for the perfection and cleanliness and joy of working on such a piece of floating art. I was honored to be trusted with such a duty, and I performed the task without error, enjoying every moment of it.
It is difficult to explain the joy of working on something so fine. I savored every effort. Relishing in the feel of tools, the hospital cleanliness of the engine, enjoying even the cleanup and polishing of the finely finished wood. I felt pleasure in every second of this operation.

Most of my operations on-board contained a similar level of fulfillment. The engine work, the rebuilding of compressor systems, the maintenance and cleaning of the water makers. I enjoyed every moment of these tasks. Tools fit my hands well, and I enjoyed employing them greatly. I still do. It is where I find my greatest pleasure, in identifying problems and repairing them. The troubleshooting, the challenge, the fitting of the parts, and the satisfaction of a job well done have always filled me with satisfaction. The duties of an on-board ships engineer were greatly fulfilling to me. All that was lacking was my wife-my life-my love… I wished her to be near me, and it had been made clear that it could not be so on this particular ship. So I would eventually go.





Thump, thump, Clank!

giant yachtMega yacht

mega yacht engine room

The yachts I worked on all ran on multiple engines. On the ‘average’ yacht, two engines were employed to power the ship through the ocean, and a third to generate electricity. The first yacht I attended was by far the largest. It had six engines. Two of them being large Catapillar diesels that looked like they belonged powering a train. Each one the size of a three-quarter ton pick-up truck. These engines, when run in conjunction with two smaller electric generating engines could be tied together both driving the ship directly and/or through the use of electric generators tied to electric motors. Other engines of various smaller sizes were also used. All of them larger than any I had enjoyed working on previously, or since. Two other smaller engines ran electrical generators to provide the ample amounts of electrical power that were required on such a large ship. As with any engine, scheduled maintenance and occasional repair were required. Oil changes were to be done regularly, and the quantities of oil used were impressive. Changing the oil in just one of the large engines required removing nearly 450 gallons of dirty oil, and this maintenance was to be performed after every 500 hours of duty. Clean replacement oil was kept in a very large tank and waste oil was pumped to another.

The ship also used a significant amount of hydraulic fluid, also kept in large tanks. This oil was pressurized by hydraulic pumps and run through lines to operate the many hydraulic components on-board. Such as the moving of the great rudders, and the expansion of large rams responsible for shooting massive stainless steel bolts into holes that would keep the great hatches closed in the worst of ocean going conditions. Also the raising and lowering of gangways, and most uniquely to me, raising and lowering of a great propeller and drive assembly in the stern of the ship.

Many ships employ bow thrusters, it is even becoming popular in smaller watercraft. These typically consist of an electric motor, fixed, that can push the front or back of the ship sideways. It is made up of a tube with a propeller in the center, it’s direction of push is the result of the direction of rotation of the propeller. They’re greatly beneficial in guiding a boat into a tight slip. Especially in the presence of wind or current. This particular ship sported a stern thruster that was lowered down into the ocean on a grand spindle powered by a hydraulic ram. This spindle could be rotated through 360 degrees so as to propel the great stern in any direction. A similar technology can be used to power tug boats, giving them greater control.  When these thrusters were operated, the effort of moving the ship sideways would send great shudders through the boat, (following which I would replace many incandescent light bulbs designed for less traumatic and a more static installation).

Another use of the hydraulics was to raise and lower a great circular pad of the aft deck. Depending on its placement, this platform would become a hot tub when lowered with it’s void filled with fresh warm water, or when locked in-place became a large aft deck, capable of handling the landing of a helicopter.
As with anything, sometimes these hydraulic systems would fail in some way. Generally these failures resulted in a small pool of hydraulic fluid or an oily smear down a finished and otherwise white shiny surface.
The hot tub lid/deck was raised and lowered by a single great ram in its center, this ram required that it be pressurized with hydraulic fluid enough to expand and lift the lid into place. The hot tub contained a volume of water near 10,000 gallons. Hydraulic lines and connectors ran through the hot tub water beneath this platform. It was a connection in one of these lines that sprung a leak during its operation one morning, thereby contaminating all 10,000 gallons of water with hydraulic fluid.

Hydraulic fluid is particularly nasty product environmentally speaking. Our chief was an extremely thorough engineer. Everything was well documented and done to the letter. His performance in all his duties was inspirational, and should I ever return to shipboard work, I would make strong efforts to emulate his.   That being said, it was obviously necessary to properly contain this contaminated hot tub water so as to avoid polluting that of the ocean. So the contaminated water was pumped into waste tanks, filling them near completely.
Hydraulic oil is insidious and is very difficult to clean.  Also, it smells terrible. The only way this oil could be cleaned was to raise the platform to its deck position and remove some decking thereby exposing an access hatch. We then had to crawl down through the hatch and into the now empty, smelly, hot tub space. Lights were lowered into this space, hoses were run, and soap was liberally applied, then the scrubbing began. Select members of the crew took turns at this messy task.

Once the waste tanks had been filled, it was necessary to find a place to offload it. While in port, the duty fell to us to offload this dirty oil as soon as possible. To this end, large tank trucks with the ability to carry thousands of gallons apiece were employed, they came with large transport hoses which were then attached to capped hose bibs previously obscured beneath gleaming white covers on the side decks of the ship, at which point a coordinated effort began. That of removing the oil from the tanks and placing it into the large tank trucks.

Radios were distributed between three of us. One radio was kept in the engine control room where sat an engineer controlling the pump, one radio was supplied to an engineer on deck who monitored the hose and controlled an on deck valve, and one radio was kept at the tank truck. Constant clear communication was important, as this oil, if leaked, was a serious environmental and aesthetic problem. The offloading of this fluid took many hours to accomplish, and was an extremely monotonous task. I was on shift on deck monitoring the hose which had been clamped to the offloading bib.
I was pacing up-and-down the deck, monitoring my radio and watching the progress and looking around at the shoreline. The pumps ran on and on in a soporific thump thump thump. There was not much to see and I was greatly distracted in my duty. I had strayed a ways down the deck with my pacing when I picked up a change in the tone of the thumps.
This change quickly transposed the ‘thump thump thump’ into a ‘clank clank clank’, and I realized there was a problem. The sound was coming from the hose bib! Turning to face the connector and valve that was my charge, I ran towards the connector as the clanking grew louder and just as I neared the connection, the large dirty hose shot off the bib and up and over the side of the ship as it regurgitated a portion of its foul contents. Black oil sprayed across the revered teak decks and up the exalted shining white sides of the superstructure.

“Turn it off turn it off!” I yelled into my radio.

It only took a second for the message and responding operation to be completed, but in that second a large quantity of very black oil had doused the side of the beautiful ship. I was horrified. I knew I had failed in my duty to avoid this catastrophe, and felt very guilty about it. The chief engineer came up on deck, deckhands gathered about to view the disaster. It was determined that the hose had simply come lose through the repeated vibration and beating of pressure, and that I had failed to recognize the potential for, or progress of, such failure. The hose was reconnected. Mops and buckets came out, also rags, and lots and lots of soap. I felt terrible. The deckhands looked at me as if I had slayed their favorite kitten. I began scrubbing alongside them, but the chief engineer took me by the shoulder and said, “No, that is not your duty.” He then placed me once again monitoring the valve and connection and the pumping began again. I was dismayed. Not only was I responsible for this mess, I was to be kept from assisting in its cleanup as I must stand, doing my duty, watching and listening. This did not sit well with some of the crew, and they let me know. I was powerless to do otherwise. It was not one of my proudest moments, but I learned from it and was duly vigilant from then on.  This lesson carried on to my other duties as well. The remainder of the offloading occurred without incident and the cleanup went smoothly with the many hands at that task, sans my own.

Sorry guys.


A Kick and A Cannon


M/Y Al-miqirb
mega yacht blue

hospital waiting room

Hospital ER waiting room

The ships finished interior was dappled heavily with panels allowing access to electrical chases, switches, valves, plumbing, and storage beneath the floors, behind the walls, and above the ceilings.
The air conditioning was one of these systems that was accessible and adjustable behind ceiling panels in the cabins. With the incentive of the hot and humid tropical days and nights I had gotten quite familiar with these controls and therefore my cabin was generally a bit cooler than the rest.
Another system that was located in these ceiling chases was the alarm and detection system. Communications and power cables ran in chases that could be accessed above the ceiling. One fine day I was performing maintenance on the smoke detectors. This required removing individual 3’x4’ ceiling panels and also the pulling of a new wire in one instance, obliging me to remove the panels one after the other as I fed and secured the wire in the overhead chase. I was using a short step ladder to access and remove the ceiling panels, which were composed of nicely textured and finished sheet metal. I had been working my way down the hall and had reached a point in the hallway outside the galley, I had just pulled a panel loose when I fumbled, and it slipped from my grasp. We had been groomed to treat the ship with the utmost care. This instance was no different and as the panel tumbled towards the finely finished wood floor, my thoughts were focused on what a gouge this panel could effect. Without hesitation, and using all the skill of a college student well experienced in keeping a hacky-sack aloft, I stuck my foot out to catch the panel. The panel fell edgewise into my shin, it’s sharp steel edge cutting deeply into my flesh, impacting the shin bone beneath, creating a three inch gash. Thankfully the muscle and tendon were spared. I knew immediately this injury was going to require a bit of suturing.
We were in port in Jacksonville, in the dry dock which was in an industrial part of town, the shipyards typically not being the most upscale of areas. A crew-mate was nearby and assisted me with bandaging my wound as we made arrangements for my transport to a nearby inner city hospital. I was embarrassed. “Please call Carrie, but just tell her I’m fine” I requested.
As she tells it: “when I received the page and called back the first words I heard was ‘Mike’s OK!’”.  In recounting this tale she makes the point to indicate this was not the best greeting she could have received as she immediately doubted the speakers sincerity. He reassured her that I was indeed going to survive and was being well cared for.
Meanwhile I was shuttled to the emergency room where I introduced myself and explained my incident and injury to the triage nurse. The wound had been bandaged prior to leaving the ship and the triage nurse didn’t bother to look at my injury, asking me to have a seat. Against my better judgment, I didn’t push to have her view my wound even though I felt my injury was probably serious enough for immediate attention, but I chose to wait my turn. Seating myself in one of the fiberglass formed chairs sitting in long lines in the waiting room, I observed the dirty blood stained bandages lying about the floor, the general depressing state, and the down affect of the people around me. In spite of many hours spent in emergency rooms, due to the condition of this one, I felt out of place.  It was the most third-world American Hospital I have ever personally observed. I surrendered to my situation as I watched many people, some obviously injured more severely than I, pass me by. Six hours later, I was invited into the emergency room. By now it was late evening, and the place was hopping. My injury was finally inspected by a local medical professional, whose eyes went wide indicating he had expected something a little less. I received a quick job of cleaning and 16 sutures, and before the final bandage was even applied I was pulled off the table as a cardiac patient was rapidly wheeled up to take my place. Sixteen years later I wear a significant scar on my shin from that one false move.

cannonball with tridant

An old cannonball with a cool trident on it

The engine room of our yacht was huge, and was lined and crossed with a mass of white pipes of all sizes, some carrying oil, some fuel, some fresh water, some waste water. The waste water came in two forms, black and grey water. Grey water comes from the drains of showers, kitchens and bathroom sinks, also laundry facilities and the like. Grey water could generally be pumped overboard unless we were in a protected harbor with restrictions. Black water on the other hand was from toilets and those pipes carried only human waste. Black water sewage on board was stored in a large tank to be offloaded upon reaching port or to be pumped overboard when far enough out at sea and while underway.

I recall being anchored out at night, the perimeter of the yacht brightly lit at the waterline with lights positioned just beneath the waters surface. This was a beautiful and serene image that created the illusion of the yacht floating on light. Aside from the aesthetic and safety aspects of it, it also allowed easy viewing of any fish that might come within reach of their beams. The galley sink had a garbage disposal that would handle great quantities of food which was washed directly overboard.  During meal preparation or cleanup significant schools of fish would gather near the discharge, all positioning for the next serving. A fish’s dinner from a yachts chef.

Down in the engine room, large electric fire pumps sat gleaming white in a row ready for action at the push of a button. Many large round-handled valves in long shiny white rows were readily accessible, plumbed to direct water through a maze of supply lines at a twist. All engineers aboard were made aware of the function and operation of these valves and pumps should a need arise.
A macerator pump sat on the floor near these valves, it was a large grinder designed to obliterate and masticate the larger elements of the black water into a fine slurry which could then be pumped and stored below in great tanks until it was to be jettisoned. Crew members were instructed to avoid putting any personal hygiene products or recreational items down the toilet. This did not always translate well from land-side habits, and as a result, the macerator pump occasionally had to be disassembled and cleaned out and the offending clog creating material removed. This job generally fell to the lowest qualified person on the chain, myself, and the assistant mechanical engineer. I of course would handle the electrical side of the operation and being careful not to impose too much on his mechanical efforts, we would disassemble, clean, and rebuild the pump together.
On this particular instance the macerator pump was working fine, but one of the long white 4 inch diameter black-water pipes had gotten clogged, solidly. After attempting to push the plug through under pressure we determined we would have to remove the pipe to gain access to the offending material. We disconnected the pipe from its station spanning nearly 8 feet in length. A messy procedure to be sure. We carried the heavy pipe together, very carefully, with its ends stopped with rags, out on to the dock where we connected a fire hose to one end and laid the pipe like a cannon against a fender rail of the pier we were docked against. We aimed it out into the harbor.
At the Chief Engineers command, a fire pump was charged, then a valve was turned pressurizing the clogged line. The pressure in the pipe built as we stood transfixed, waiting to see if this would dislodge the plug. We didn’t have to wait very long. With a thwump and a rush of brownish water, the plug went sailing out over the ocean splashing down like the most foul cannonball ever. We cheered! Not exactly pirates, but capable cannoneers all the same.

The assembly was then reduced to its components and the pipe was returned to its original position in the engine room and was welded back into place.