Thursday, June 30, 2011

As dumb as a dock!

June 29, 2011

Yar! matey’s. Ol’ Pappa Curley bringing ye the daily scuttlebutt!

Three days the saltier and infinitely the wiser! Or so I’d like to think. In truth, no matter how deeply I meditate on the sea— believe me—I can’t seem to open my mouth on this boat [ed. note: it is a ship, not a boat] without sounding like—in the words of Admiral William Smyth—“a dirty dog and no sailor.” Well, the latter description is applicable, certainly. As for the former, in fact I’m quite clean; and—while I’m divulging—I’m really more of a peppery (defined as sharp and stinging in style or content) than a salty dog.

Catch my drift? Me thinks not! Well, then, perhaps a dialog my finer moments will better illustrate my point...

Captain Smith enters library.
Smith: “Just confirming with you that we are definitely going to Rijeka, not Split. As soon as I find out, I’ll let you know the name of the berth.”
Curley: “Name of the birth? Like a Caesarean?”

Cadet Patrick Collins checks out a book.
Curley: “Man, did you hear about the whale sighting this morning?!?!”
Collins: “What about it?”
Curley: “What about it? C’mon, it’s not ever’ day you see a whale, for Jonah’s sake!"
Collins: “We see whales all the time on watch. All they do is blow their blowholes.”
Curley: “Isn’t that all any of us does, matey?”
Collins (rolls eyes): You should come on watch sometime. We see all kinds of stuff. Flying fish, dolphins—lots of dolphins—sea turtles...”
Curley: “...mermaids, Loch Ness...”

Ye see? And I’m not trying to be clever or snarky here, folks. Honestly, I’m bowled over by being at sea and seeing a whale! But I discovered that my asking a grizzled salty dog [ed. note: not sure if a cadet is really a 'grizzled salty dog'] whether he saw a whale is rather like his asking a smart aleck peppery dog (who happens to be a librarian) like me whether I’ve ever heard of a book they call Moby-Dick. “Uh, yeah, dude. I’ve heard of that one.” Talk about a role reversal!

I’m used to being the sophisticated cynic and indifferent to bubbly enthusiasm. Yar!I wish I had some saucy sea tales to relay, but, alas, everything has been—shall we say?—smooth sailing so far. I do, however, have these messages:

Zach Davidson says, “Hey, mom.”

Michael Carew says, “Love you, mom. Love you, Jackie.”

James Caracciolo says, “I love you, mom.”
Tim Bourke says, “What’s up, mom?”

And I, Curley, say, “Love you,” to me mum as well. Mum, they’re going to make me fat with the food they’re feeding me, thus ruining our long and illustrious lineage of scrawny! OMG! (Read about it in my next blog post.)

I am a rock, I am a...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bye-bye land; Hello open ocean!

June 27, 2011

Ahoy, me matey’s. Greetings from the watery part of the world! Call me Curley, Brendan Curley, the ship’s librarian for the second sea term. Now, before you draw any conclusions about my fluency with 21st century sailor jargon, I must warn devoted readers of this blog—surely they number as many as the stars in the sky—who are accustomed to the sea-savvy tidings of Mike Russell, our former librarian and a veteran salty dog, that I, Curley, represent a very different point of view... that of a first-time sailor. I am like a fish out of water so consider this my maiden voyage!

Fortunately I am not the only one on a maiden voyage; I find myself in the same "boat" as many of the mugs — freshmen students, for those of you unfamiliar with sailor talk —who are here aboard TS Empire State VI for the first time. I know what you’re thinking, reader. “Seasickness, indeed!” No, sir, not I! For I’ve the constitution of a bear and the stomach of a sheep. I also float like a boat and sing like a Bee Gee (though I’m evidently rather poor at metaphors).

Don’t believe me? Feast your eyes on this: "Truly singing his little Irish-American heart out on the boardwalk in Cobh." I must have been the spitting image of a genuine Irishman, too, for I had no sooner sat down when a group of cadets approached, turned my case around, tossed some Euros into it and said, “This is how we do it in America, boy-o!” Yes, sir!

O, I could go on and on, but enough about me! You're probably wondering about our beloved cadets, and I can tell ye that they were as smitten with Ireland as I. Good, clean, honest American fun was had by all. I saw our cadets everywhere I went in Cobh as well as Cork where many of us made excursions. I even spoke to a cadet in the library today who said he went fly fishing! And, naturally, there were many more who like me brought instruments into town to make music with the locals. Indeed, all I heard the last night in town as our seafaring cadets glumly filed back to the ship was, “What a wonderful country!” “What truly friendly people!”

Alas, here we are now one day out at sea and making great time due to arrive within another day or so in Gibraltar, at which point Captain Smith will apply the brakes, donut around a few islands, and float leisurely into Croatia by July 6. It’s quite lovely I hear. In fact, we are all looking forward to the beautiful Mediterranean scenery, weather, and locals.

Lastly, we also have a new port, ladies and gentlemen. Rijeka. I repeat: Rijeka instead of Split. Address cards and letters accordingly to:

Name of Cadet, T/S Empire State, c/o

BANDIC d.o.o. (Ltd.)

Smiljanica 2

21000 Split


Until next time, dear reader:

Fair winds and following seas!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On the Way to Cobh

June 15, 2011

It doesn't take long to get back in the underway routine. The cardio room and the cadet lounges surround the library on the third-deck and there are always people working out either on the cardio machines or doing exercise DVDs. Gosh, to have that much energy again! I have been true to my daily yoga, Pilates, and meditation. But, the six-deck climb up to my stateroom from the library is getting longer and steeper...

Today we came across a small 25 foot pleasure boat adrift. We tried hailing them on the normal radio frequencies, but without any response. So we circled around and came up within hailing distance. At first we didn't see any people onboard, but then we saw someone in the cockpit who was not moving. Finally, the blasts from the ship's horn got them up and moving. That's one wake up call they will not forget! I'm sure that all came as a relief to our rescue & assistance team who would have needed to go over to investigate. The pleasure boat indicated that they didn't require any assistance and so TSES returned to her course. Law of the sea, stop and give aid unless to do so would hazard your vessel. In my time in the CG I've seen merchant vessels render aid to others in the most trying of sea conditions and dangerous circumstances. That kind of story doesn’t make it on the evening news, besides they would never think of what they were doing as heroic – just doing their duty.

Later we did a ship's emergency drill followed by an abandon ship drill. These are required by the U.S. Coast Guard and are to be done on a set schedule. You do as you train and training gets you ready for the real thing and that always comes unannounced. I've been a member of rescue & assistance teams to other vessels in distress and been through several shipboard emergencies including fires and a helicopter crash on deck. Training and drilling make all the difference when the time comes.

For most of the afternoon and night we have been sailing the same course as a NATO squadron of destroyers and frigates along with the USS Mount Whitney. Kind of gives you a little insight of what it may have been like for merchantmen sailing in convoys under the protection of military escorts during the two World Wars. But, for Cap't Hugh Stephens, one of our deck instructors, he doesn't have to imagine - he remembers.

For the cadets on the 45 day cruise they are in their last week of training with finals exams starting over the weekend. Next stop Cobh, Ireland.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Photos in Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk Waterfront, Old City

Gdansk Visa alley

SUNY Cadets

International Connections: Russian and SUNY Cadets

International Connections: Polish and SUNY Cadets


June 12, 2011

Today, I took the ferry boat over to Gdansk with some of our cadets and some of the Russian & Polish midshipman for an afternoon in that old town. Cadets from each county got together in the ferry's forward salon and played a game of charades. Fortunately a few of the Russian and Polish cadets could speak some English and with sign body language that was enough to keep things going.

During the ferry ride we could see the resort city of Sopot and later we made our way through Gdansk's commercial port and down the Motlawa and Stara Motlawa. The Gdansk "Old Town" is more touristy than Riga with vendors selling amber jewelry everywhere, but it had a charm and authentic feeling to it. The area had been thoroughly bombed during World War II and stayed in ruins through the Soviet era. Since joining the EU, Poland has been able to revitalize its historical areas into economic zones.

In Gdansk, our immediate need was for Polish cash. We walked through Visa alley to the first bank where each us us valiantly tried (and failed) to get money. Fortunately, none lost a card! A little further down the street a sharp eyed deckie cadet spotted another bank where we were all able to fill our pockets with local "Zits." We went our separate ways and met four-hours later back at the ferry for a quick ride back to TSES and the Admiral’s Reception. The vast majority took these experience in stride, and enjoyed their adventure and the friendships they have made. Me, I'm sitting in a shaded cafe having a coffee and listening to classical music from a pair of street musicians. Sad that all hands are gathering to leave and so must I.


June 11 2011

The Empire State VI is making the last leg of its passage to Gdynia, Poland from Riga, Latvia and we should tie up sometime tomorrow.

Riga was a blast! There was lots to do, places to see, and activities to participate in. There were several tours, but the most favorite was a tie between the bicycle trip and a wilderness park adventure from the oohs and aahs I heard. Personally, I only made the foot tour of the Art Nouveau district.

I did visit the National Library of Latvia which is currently being built. It's huge! One of its several complete buildings is the Art Nouveau style and I got to walk around inside and admire the chestnut moldings, columns, and plaster fittings. My need for some green was satisfied by Riga's extensive inner city parks and canal system. Not one big park mind you, but lots of medium sized parks with neighborhoods built around them flowing together Although Riga is a city of 1.2 million, it feels like a city of neighborhoods - a lot like my Philadelphia (but a whole lot cleaner).

Friday, June 10, 2011


Learning Block and Tackle from Professor James McKoy

Rigging the Scaffold with Captain Mike Kein

Plugging a Leak

Cadets in the Computer Lounge

What's that Smell?

Coming into Riga

Getting Q's on the Life Rafts

Repairing the Ship

Sunset Over Denmark

The Tugboat "Hugin"

Hanging Out

Monday, June 6, 2011

Empire State Carnival

June 6, 2011

In a few hours we will pull into Riga, Latvia, having completed a major portion of our training journey for this first half of the Summer Sea Term. I watched as the cadets went from station to station in our “Empire State Carnival” and have some nice pictures to share once we reach port. I’m sure they each had their favorite exercises!

From my perspective, the most challenging station involved cadets practicing how to plug leaks in a ruptured bulkhead (wall) as water gushed out at 200 gallons per minute from a half dozen differently shaped holes and cracks. The most successful cadets started by fixing the larger holes at the bottom of the bulkhead as it filled, forcing the water to flow instead out of smaller cracks. To add to the realism, cadets were sprayed with “fog” from a fire hose.

The point of the exercise is not only to stop the flooding, but to build team work through careful planning and lots of persistent practice. By design, it is impossible to stop all the water, but just stopping enough of the water so that pumps could keep ahead of the ruptures until proper repairs can be made in a real life flooding situation, which would affect the stability of the ship or worse.

Another station was a search and rescue exercise using SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) for practical firefighting. In this case, two cadets enter a dark compartment to look for an “injured” shipmate. One cadet places their left hand along the wall and
his partner holds onto his right arm. The two “rescuers” crawl in a sweeping motion around a room filled with obstacles to find the victim. Cadets learn quickly that in the hot and disorientating room, it is nearly impossible to talk using the SCBA and communication is facilitated with trained hand signals.

On deck, cadets also trained in the safe use of blocks and tackles, boatswain chairs and scaffolds, and deck rescue/quick response boats. Riding around in the RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) is popular with the students.

Although these real life training exercises are playfully referred to as “Carnival,” students recognize the true application of the stations and come away from the experience as stronger, more devoted shipmates.

Underway to Riga

June 2, 2011

It only took a few days after Aalborg for us to get back into our underway routines. Some cadets are painting, some are standing watch, and others are studying. Depending on the day, the cadets rotate their duties. The instructors are putting in eighteen hour plus days between teaching class, grading papers, and standing their own watches. At first I thought of the Empire State VI as a floating classroom and while she is educational, the experience is really an exploration of maturity for the cadets. Participating in Summer Sea Term is really a study of finding the right answers unexpected questions, showing initiative and tenacity, and always being prepared for the unknown.

Over the weekend the cadets trained in practical deck and engineering exercises which included damage control, seamanship, boat rescue, block and tackle, search and rescue, etc. One of the instructors helped to take pictures of these exercises and will assist again during the ship's "Carnival."

Cadets have been avid readers of C.S. Forrester’s Hornblower series, and some attention has been paid to the local wildlife at sea. Of note have been a few unique gulls and osprey. I'm writing the final draft of the port brochure for Riga, Latvia with input from officers, cadets, and librarians on shore. Riga is a modern European city and the second largest in the Baltic. There will be plenty of museums, cafes, shopping, and entertainment. Personally, the Botanical Garden, Bikeernieki Forest, and the Art Nouveau in the Centre district are on my list. The ports of Gdynia, Poland and Cobh, Ireland will be here before we know it.