Saturday, July 04, 2015

Karma is nice

Charles Leeuwenburg wears many hats,
being charitable to visiting sailors
is just one more. (Picture by CL)
Some people think I make a fortune off my marine engineering website. I don’t get that comment so much these days, but back when I started in 2000, there was this expectation that everybody with a website was a millionaire. No, far from it. It’s actually quite a bit of an expense in time and money that goes into it, and I certainly don’t do it for money.

So why do I do it then, is usually the second question I get. The answer is pretty simple; it provides me such a great opportunity to meet people who share my enthusiasm of what we do, and those experiences really are better than money.

A few months ago, I received an email from Charles in the USA, he wanted to send me some pictures of Sun Ships, the shipping arm of Sunoco Oil Company, on which he had served as a mate. He had seen the Doxford area of my website, where there is a discussion about the English engines, being used in Sun Ships, and wanted to contribute.

Little did he know I was actually on a ship heading north from the Caribbean, and we had planned to stop by Morehead City in North Carolina, for fuel, where, as it happens, he lives and works. Charles no longer sails actively; he is now a busy Cargo Surveyor running his own outfit, WC Leeuwenburg Marine Cargo Surveyors. He knew of our ship, and we made plans for him to come by and say hello when we would be in.

The whole US port visit experience left a bad taste in my mouth - as it does to many seafarers, but Charles came by the ship as promised, and was a bright spot in the stop. Not only did he bring the pictures for the website, but also some great Plimsoll Gear for the entire crew. 
Comfortable long sleeve shirts, featuring the very nautical Plimsoll mark; the crew was very surprised and happy to receive these gifts.

He also went out of his way to let me borrow one of his company phones, for the few days, while I was there. It was a special treat to speak with my wife and kids, in the privacy of my cabin. Not to mention that in today’s world, a payphone is very hard to find, so calling a cab was made so much easier.

So ok, I certainly don’t “make money” from the website, but these events really highlight a great human trait, and how, in such a small world we all share, it illustrate how we are connected somehow. What a great feeling; truly makes me feel wealthy, and for that I am very grateful - thanks Charles.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A day at the port: Quebec City

Quebec City is always such a great place for ship lovers. It's a bustling port, with lots of action to admire, and neat iron plying about. Today, I had the opportunity to visit some berth mates before I signed off, here are some pictures.

River traffic is constant, above is Umiak 1 leaving for its monthly trip to northern Quebec, with supplies for the mines; then coming back loaded with valuable nickle ore, for transhipment from Quebec City. In the background is Davie Yard, where the fitting out of the second of three Cecon ships is well under way.

Unseen, but on the ways, is the third sample of the offshore construction ship, and the beginnings of one of the new LNG powered ferries for Society Traversier de Quebec (STQ).

The Catherine Desgagnes (right) is laid up, probably for good, after a very long career. Look for a picture tour of the engine room, coming soon on the main website. Coriolis II (above left) is the ex Coast Guard Ship John Jacobson, from the West Coast, its sister ship is the CCGS Gordon Reid. They are fueling the ship, in preparation for departure. Getting under, below, to its homeport in Rimouski, further down the river.

Groupe Ocean is getting to be a massive player in the ship repair, harbour tugs, shipyard, dredging and various other activities. Quebec City is the home base for the company, and its it pretty clear they have quite a few projects on the go.

The CCGS Pierre Radisson is one of Ocean's project with some steelwork and machining being done, before the ship head into the arctic in a couple months.  

The Ocean Tundra strikes a pose, with the iconic Chateaux Frontenac in the background. The Robert Allan designed tug was built at Ocean Industries in nearby Iles aux Coudres shipyard. The MaK powered tug is currently the most powerful tug in Canada at 8,160 hp, and a sister, the Ocean Taiga, is currently under construction.

The newly built, and flying the Canadian flag, Nordana Sky, owned by Symphony Shipping is under charter to Desgagnes, to replace the retiring Catherine Desgagnes. I'd say its quite a jump to this new ship, launched in February 2015. Here are more details from the builder and below is a video of her launch.

The newish Ocean Traverse Nord was built at Ocean Industries in Iles aux Coudres, in 2012. It is a Trailing Suction Split Hopper dredge; it has just returned to Canada, from working in the Caribbean. When full, the hull splits open allowing the dredge tailings to clear out quickly, its quite a sight.

Some of Groupe Oceans other modern tugs, at the company's berth in the Louise Bassin. They are used principally for ship docking at the nearby Ultramare (Valero) refinery in Levi, across the St Lawrence River from Quebec. Ocean Henry Bain, in front, the Ocean K Rusby, in the middle, and the Ocean Tundra at the back.

In the summer time, there is always a cruise ship, or two, in town; Holland America's Veendam spent the night, at the cruise terminal, right in the heart of Old Quebec.

Always lots to see at the Port, you can browse the arrivals and departure at the Port de Quebec's website, here

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Spamily - builder of ships, not nations

In a previous post I was musing about shipyards, ports, and other national assets that are often taken advantage of by being “privatized”, or otherwise utilized to enrich a select few.  Meanwhile the states, and its people, are burdened with the cost of developing and maintaining these assets. I find this grossly offensive myself.

We only have to look to the Soviet State and its huge infrastructure, “sold” for fractions of their worth - divvied up - amongst a select,well connected few, after the collapse of their government, creating this oligarch, class of unprecedented “wealth”.  Meanwhile the rest of the people go starving, or otherwise have lost what they had worked for, for so long.

I think shipyards are national assets, and should be run that way. Unless of course you have a completely independent business enterprise free of government intervention. I am naive but I haven’t seen any shipyard go without government subsidies to some degree. Politicians are dependent on those well paid, highly skilled jobs shipyards usually represent.

Why does this matter? It matters because it changes the course of the nation. Take for example a country with an industrial base around building ships. Well call this country Spamily. The government of Spamily is the major shareholder of a large shipyard group which builds cruise ships.

This enterprise provides many jobs, and is important in keeping people busy, instead of seeing the corruption of the government in its various forms.

The government becomes more and more dependent on this highly visible industry, and as a result they start underbidding contract to build ships. A cruise ship costing 900 million, is delivered to it new owner for $600 million.

The difference in the value of that asset is where the problem lies. The owner has an asset worth $900m, having only paid $600m. The shipyard, and the country that supports it, paid $900m to build it. A simple transfer of wealth, but the people of Spamily now have a debt of $300m to make up – are those jobs really worth that?

Like any credit, this does not appear to be a problem, at first. In government terms, the politicians hide the debt for years, paying off the interest alone, making the creditor happy, while still keeping people busy. By the time creditor starts getting jittery, because too many cruise ships have been built, and the difference has outweighed the asset value Spamily actually has, the politicians are long gone, their pockets happily lined.

The ship owner now has a fleet of high value ships, that they only paid 70 per cent of – a net profit of 30%. As you can see this would be a great deal - for a select few.

Meanwhile the creditor starts exerting pressure on Spamily and because all of Spamily's “people” owe this debt, they must accept to give up their pensions, accept lower salaries, pay more for goods. They must accept policies that are dictated by their creditors. These creditors, may be the same people that actually owned the ships to start with.

What a neat and tidy scam.

That’s why I am interested in learning where the money comes from, and I think you should be too. Eventually the true cost - and the true cost will come out -  and it will have to be dealt with.
The value should belong to the people who have agreed to the cost, whether they knew or not, I guess therein lays the issue.

Public assets paid by taxpayers, ought to stay public assets with public profits. But more and more these days we see our government “privatize” "money losing" assets for fraction of pennies, which the next day become huge privates assets. It’s stealing, its plain wrong, and it causes unnecessary hardship and strife to our fellow humans.  

All pics from the interwebs

Monday, March 30, 2015

Check out my Yas Yas !

I was sent these pictures some time ago, from a friend of the site in New Zealand, who was working on this beautiful ship, currently named Yas (ex-Swift 141). Always neat to see these engine rooms - a far cry from the crowded dank engine rooms of the numerous tugs I've worked on... BTW, she has 21000 hp installed.


You can read more about Yas' specs here and see some pictures here; incidentally, there is one shot of her at her builder's yard in Dubai, with BC Ferries' PacificCat in the background.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Bob might finally retire; WMI changes ownership

Captain Robert CE Kitching, President, Western Maritime Institute

Western Maritime Institute’s parking lot was full to the brim last week when I went to visit. The institute's founder, Capt. Bob Kitching states that he’s even had to find parking out on the road on some days. Capt Kitching founded Western Maritime Institute (WMI) back in 2000, on the site of a surplus elementary school, in a semi rural area, south of Nanaimo, BC, on Vancouver Island.

Inside courtyard at WMI
Since those early days, with a steadfast vision and a tremendous amount of work, not to mention personal capital, Bob and his team, have turned this humble elementary school into Canada’s one stop shop for effective maritime career training, a full parking lot is a great testimonial to their success.

The school features a full suite of Marine Emergency Duty (MED) training and facilities, onsite, including the fire training ship mock-up, and a lifeboat davit and tank. In 2013, a new student housing facility was also added; with the airport nearby, it's arguably one of the best features for us professional mariners looking to do short term upgrade training.

Student housing block at WMI
I was a bit sad when Capt Kitching mentioned that he was finally going to retire. Don’t get me wrong the man certainly deserves it. At a time when most of his contemporaries are well into their retirement years, especially after such a lengthy and diversified career at sea and in maritime education, and a sizable outlay of his retirement fund into WMI, who would blame him. But the thought of losing Capt Kitching’s drive and zeal… really, advocacy for Canadian seafaring to a certain extent, is worrisome to me.

Retirement for Capt Kitching comes in the form of Western Maritime Institute, and all of its facilities and programs, now coming under the roof of Fraser Education Inc, effective March 2015. Capt Kitching will remain the President of WMI to shepherd a smooth transition to the new owners.

One of the classrooms at WMI
Currently offering Transport Canada safety mandate courses and deck officer certification, there is a fresh appetite to expand the program offerings, and the related facilities, with a focus on engineering programs. Being well received within the community, the school has ample grounds to expand so this is very exciting news for professional mariners, and in general, for the future of Marine Engineering professionals in Canada.

I have a feeling Capt Kitching will not just retire “overnight”, but before he puts his feet up, I express my admiration of his success and appreciation of his hard work developing an accessible maritime training facility that benefits professional seafarers, as well as nurture budding careers. Thank you. I take comfort that his legacy will be felt for many years to come in Canada’s maritime community.

Here is the official press release from WMI regarding the change of ownership...
Fraser Education Inc. acquires Western Maritime Institute Inc. 
Robert Prendergast, CEO of Fraser Education, is extremely pleased to announce the completion of the acquisition of Western Maritime Institute. WMI is the first acquisition for Fraser and is the largest private maritime college in Canada.
Captain Bob Kitching, the founder and owner of WMI, will remain in his position as the President of the Maritime Division of Fraser Education. Captain Kitching is a Master Mariner and prior to establishing WMI was the Dean of BCIT's Pacific Marine Training Institute.
 Some background on WMI
Western Maritime Institute was established in 2000 and moved to its current location in Ladysmith in 2007, and has since added a campus in Steveston (Richmond), while continuing to “bring the classroom” to other locations from Haida Gwaii to Inuvik.

WMI offers courses from one-day MED A3, to courses leading to the Master, 500 Gross Tons Certificate of Competency. We continue to extend our course offering each year and are looking forward to introducing a wider range of engineering courses in the near future.

Accreditations: Transport Canada, Industry Canada, Private Career Training Institutes Agency (PCTIA), BC Education Quality Assurance, DNV GL.
The facilities and courses can be viewed at, on Facebook at and Twitter:
Capt Kitching, showing off the newly constructed student housing in 2013

If you are in the area, I do encourage you to drop by and visit the school and their facilities, say hi to the always approachable Captain Bob Kitching. You can find my previous post and articles on WMI from this site search result... being in my neighborhood, I've had a few comments over the years, and its been a real treat to see the development. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Winter ship rituals

Ocean Intrepid breaks ice, preparing for the
arrival of Oceanex Avalon in Montreal
As most know, the winters in Canada can be somewhat challenging. In the Great Lakes area, the winter of 2013-2014 was particularly good example of that statement, with record ice covering all of the Great Lakes and their inter-connecting rivers, well past the normal “ice season”. Some ships on Lake Superior even experienced breaking ice in late May, and into June!

In winter, keeping the St Lawrence Seaway’s numerous locks and tight navigational channels moving becomes all the more challenging. Operating the gates of the locks becomes difficult, with ice building up the sensitive machinery and their tight fittings. As a result, the Seaway authority shuts down until such time that the operation of the locks, and navigation of the channels can be reliable and safe.

When the seaway shuts down, it effectively shuts down nearly all of shipping on the great lakes and its connecting rivers. Typically, the seaway shuts down in late December, 26-31, and reopens in late
March, 18-25. The closure typically means that all commercial vessel traffic cannot go further up the St Lawrence River than Montreal, and those ships caught in Lake Ontario, stay there. Some ships may still operate on Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Erie but traffic is curtailed considerably due to weather and ice conditions, but mostly because of limited cargo opportunities.  

Canadian Coast Guard ship clears a path under the Quebec Bridge
for a tanker bound for Montreal
If a “salty” or deep sea ship cannot make it out of the system by the shut down date, they are faced with staying put for the winter, or face high fees to open the seaway, especially to accommodate them through; all very expensive options for an international ship owner.

Many "lakers" will switch from active service into "winter lay-up”, or “winter works” period. Winter work is a necessary part of keeping Canada’s aging fleet going. Pushed hard the rest of the year, the old ships needs considerable care to make them pass the regulator’s scrutiny in early March. Dry dockings, surveys, steelwork, machinery rebuilds fill the “Winter Work List” of many vessels. The manpower at the local repair outfits is stretched thin during these times and finding elusive parts or skilled labour for old machinery is a big challenge.

Pulling shafts on a tug in
Iles aux Coudres, Quebec
Shipyard time and heavy maintenance is always a challenge, but to do it in winter is an exercise that is an exceptional feat. It still baffles the mind how so much technical work can be accomplished in -25 degrees Celsius, with strong winds and the resultant mind numbing wind chills.

I remember having a discussion about the application of hull paint at the Ocean Group shipyard in Iles aux Coudres, Quebec. The weather was brutal cold, but we had a schedule to keep, so we had to contact the paint manufacturer to find out how low a temperature we could still apply their product; with the outside temperature at -21C degrees we would be fine to paint, barely.

Not all ships need extensive work, and often the ships are winterized, and tied up to berths all over the Great Lakes ports, Port Colborne, Montreal, Hamilton, etc. These ships are securely moored and winterized; the crew is signed off for the winter.

End of wintering in Montreal; free in a few hours,
clear water and an open seaways beckons
Many crew members end up in the unemployment rolls, whilst a few take on the lonely task of becoming the "Ship Keeper". In many ports, the laid up ship must have one person on board to monitor and check the ship at all times. Typically this is reserved for the lowest rank of the engine room team – or the otherwise single person, able to withstand themselves for two long months of complete isolation, locked in a motionless, creepy hulk of a ship.

Once the second week of March rolls around, the tired shipkeeper can starts to feel normal again, with the arrival of some crew members. The crew members are there to prepare the ship for the upcoming sailing season. This period is often referred to as “fit out”. The engineering teams are stressed at this time, wrapping up the winter work list maintenance projects, or otherwise reactivating the old bones of a great dame.

At this time of year, regulators are overwhelmed with surveys and certification exercises and a great deal of paperwork is shuffled around. There is usually a constant parade of officials and certification exercises on the ship.

A picture of Port Weller's empty
navigational channel, while maintenance
is carried out on the locks
All this flurry of activity comes to a climax in mid March, and like racing horses at the starting line, there is a palpable panting, rearing to go feeling going around the ship. The office has the cargo orders handed out, the chief mate has final gear to stow away, and engineers have bunkered large amounts of fuel, lubes, and six month worth of filters. Cookie is stowing the large grub order, and restocking the shelves, scavenged by the ship keeper. The ship keepers, has been signed off, to clumsily rejoin society, while in the mess, jovial talk of sailors catching up like some old church ladies, carries on.

With the reopening of the Seaway in late march, the “winter lay-up” ends, and that year’s Great Lakes Shipping Season begins. The first ship through various locks, in the “Spring”, is usually well celebrated by numerous organizations, garnering a crowd, and the media, to cover this special event. The milestone is usually marked by the awarding of a Top Hat or a Cane or some kind of symbol, celebrating the end of another long Canadian winter.

M.V. Equinox's Captain Ross Armstrong, first ship
of the 2014 season in the Welland Canal credit
Except for the above, all pictures taken by Martin Leduc

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

So, how was your holiday season?

...from interwebs
I'm still alive! You wouldn't know it by the posts on this site but I am. Last year was just super busy personally and professionally, which left me little time to dedicate to the blog. Generally, each original post usually takes about 5-6 hrs to produce, believe it or not, which has been a challenge to fit into my schedule, already in perpetual flux.

The constant bouncing around between ships all over Eastern and Central Canada has not help either. It seems I have a flexible personality and even more flexible set of skills that are in high demand. Unfortunately, it leads to a vicarious lifestyle with little predictability - life of a modern sailor I guess.

Here's my holiday schedule: flew to St John's from Vancouver to join one boat, less than 24 hrs later, back to Toronto, to join another boat, for "a three or four day job". One week later, Christmas morning, weather a sudden and violent windstorm on Lake Ontario, getting tossed around like laundry in a washing machine.

Christmas dinner, lunch really (only meal of the day), was at Pearson airport, at the Mill Street, on my way to St John's. Two days on my first boat, I get dispatched to another boat, for "a two day job" up the Newfoundland coast. week later, on New Year's Day, I am back on first boat in St John's.

A little less than a week later, I get sent to Hamilton on boat number four. Needles to say, I am looking forward to seeing the end of this six week hitch, in just under two weeks.

I don;t foresee much free time in the near future, but I hope to put up some mental morsel for you to contemplate soon. In the mean time, Happy New Year.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Sixes, a quick way to a deep six

from the interwebs
Is there anything worse than working “sixes”? I would submit that there is not.

“Sixes” is a watch standing routine common to Canada. It is a brutal watch system where two people share the oversight responsibility amongst themselves, in particular on smaller vessels, like tugs. In the engine room the Chief Engineer stands the 6-12 watch, while the Second Engineer stands the 12-6 watch. These watches last the length of the time on board, which in my particular case, now is targeted to six weeks.

Typically, larger vessels have a 4 hrs on 8 hrs off watch routine, where three engineer manned the engine room, with a Chief Engineer usually doing “day work”. Although you still need a second nap while working 4 on 8 off, it offers a bit more flexibility in your rest patterns. The down side to 4 on 8 off is also a higher rate of overtime, spent doing additional maintenance and such.

from the interwebs
Some people, principally the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), do twelve hours days, but they do it in a straight time, 12 to 12. Although this presents its own challenges, it is actually a better watch system for twelve hours days. Your rest is unbroken, less time is wasted in “preparatory routines”, and meals end up on watch. However the CCG also has more crew in the engine room.

Working sixes are usually grueling as the opportunities for rest are so tight. Spend a little too much time working, reading, or watching TV and your next couple of days drag on, as your body deals with the fatigue.  

Rest time is taken up by waking / falling asleep routines, watch handover, meals, throw in some paperwork or a phone call. Your actual effective rest opportunity is reduced to about 4 hrs per off-watch. In addition, your time off watch is never really time-off on a small ship, as all its operations are felt throughout, and impact your rest quality. “Sixes” result in a very regimented day and a very tiring contract.

from the interwebs
Fatigue builds pretty quick with sixes, and within two weeks, any minutes of lost sleep are easily noticed. One good side of fatigue, it forces you to “sleep on command”. Within minutes of hitting the pillow, you are in deep sleep mode. This skill is generally found to be quite frustrating by partners ashore.

My spouse is envious of my ability to fall asleep within second of having an interactive conversation with her – literally within 10-30 seconds of saying good night, I will be snoring.

Watch out for fatigue; learn more from Wikipedia.