Francis Meyrick

Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual Ch.2-C “Your Cabin and your room mate(s) “

Posted on August 1, 2009

PART 2 “Moggy’s Tuna Manual ” “Job offers and job duties “

landing a Hughes 500 from the port side; notice the interesting ‘winglets’ on the end of the floats!

Chapter 2 -C Your Job Offer: Your cabin and your roommate(s)
(Cockroaches or Carpets?)

Let’s face it, you’re young perhaps, anxious for your first job, and maybe in debt up to your eyeballs for training costs to get your magic Helicopter Commercial Pilot’s License. You’re anxious to get going, right?
I surmise some pilots are and mechanics are so excited to be even offered a job, that some real basic questions simply do not occur to them – until it’s too late to ‘negotiate’!
Take the issue of your cabin. Are you a non-smoker? How do you feel about being cooped up in a small room with one or two chain smokers who are ‘lit up’ every waking moment? I’ve seen guys swimming from the skiff boat to the mother ship with a cigarette clenched between their teeth! (I was going to call it a ‘fag’ and not a cigarette, but then I remembered that the statement “I am going outside to smoke a fag ” will have very different interpretations depending on where you are in this world of ours…)
Will you have working air conditioning? Very likely, but beware:some systems are good, and some are really poor. I am a non-smoker, and I would not even entertain the thought of sharing a room, for months on end, with a heavy smoker.
How about bathroom facilities? Do you have your own private ‘head’ and shower, like many do, or will you have to share? It may color your bubble when you discover that the ‘John’ is a long walk up and down stairs, and that you may have to walk to the other end of the ship to wash your hands.
Especially at three o’clock in the morning…

The upper bunk, the lower bunk? And where do I park my blow up doll?

Who exactly are you going to share with? Your mechanic? Your pilot? Only? That may not be so bad. But I would think long and hard before sharing with any crew members. Am I a racist? A snob? No, not at all, quite the opposite. I see us all as part of the human family. But I am a realist, born of some tough experience. Think, for instance, of the different duty hours. I’ve heard many a story about pilots getting tired out -and grumpy- from constantly interrupted sleep. The crew will be getting up at all sorts of weird hours. Anybody in the engine room, or on watch, can be setting his alarm clock for all sorts of ungodly hours! The deckhands will be up at three or four in the morning maybe, hours before first light. People go ‘on watch’ on the bridge around the clock. How are they going to feel about the lucky pilot who can sleep on for a few more hours? Some will be considerate. The odd one though will be jealous, and go out of his way to be a thundering pest. Switching all the lights on, coughing and banging around, etc. That was the unfortunate experience of one pilot ‘tuna head’, who was totally demoralized (and exhausted) in less than three weeks. Remember there are also simply cultural differences. You may like to ‘sit’ on the John. Don’t be too surprised when your foreign room mate likes to ‘squat’ on it. Hopefully, he’s a good shot! If the weather is rough, and the ship is rolling, will he clean up after himself? Don’t bank on it.
This may sound awful, but believe you me…

The venerable R-22; a good, solid machine, but many, many, have crashed off tunaboats

Let me tell you one story, that says it all. I was invited onto an American ship out of San Diego, by an older pilot, recently divorced, and a little lonely. He was a charming, mountain of a fellow, who comes under the heading of a ‘gentle giant’. We chatted, and he told me his story. He was in a small, cramped cabin, sharing with two foreign gentlemen, who never smiled. They were surly and suspicious. Both smoked incessantly, and refused point blank to go outside. They both liked violent pornographic videos. He didn’t. They especially liked one video showing young Amsterdam girls having it off with dogs and other animals. That upset him. They shared a bathroom, which was a smelly mess. But here’s the rub of the story: after a few days at sea he noticed a small sign on another cabin door. It said: “helo pilot “. He peeked in. It was a nice, single room with a private head and shower! Occupied! By the second engineer. Our pilot went to the captain, and inquired if that should not have been his room! He reckons there was ‘some considerable embarrassment’. No specific reply was made to his question, but a while later he noticed the sign had been removed…
That seems to me to be both unfair and short sighted. How boats like that expect to keep their helicopter crews is anybody’s guess. Perhaps they just like to see a continuous stream of new faces!
This story was especially interesting for me. I had applied to them a year or two earlier!
I’m so glad they turned me down…

I would ask if it’s possible to speak to the outgoing crew. Can you have his/their phone number or email please. That is a perfectly reasonable request.If asked why, well, you want to check on the helicopter, equipment needed, state of the helideck, etc, etc.
The previous incumbent will tell you a lot, hopefully before you even set foot on board.
Many boats have very nice helo cabins, and some are downright palatial. Carpets, nice stained wood, large fridge, sink, cooker. Everything except a chamber maid. (and, seriously, I was offered one of those for a vacation in Taiwan!)
The odd boat expects you to rough it. Or hopes you will be too naive to object to a broom cupboard. It’s your choice. Do you need sleep, or do you function perfectly well having been woken up several times during the night?
If you go out there, amongst the endless wild and outrageous stories, you will hear the one about some helo guys who had a large hole in their cabin floor. It became a bit of a joke. No, it’s not an ‘Ocean Myth’. They did!
I once went onto a boat, after I already had a year or two out there, and I was a known commodity to the Taiwanese captains. I was shown to my cabin, with a big smile, and it really was a poky little place. About two feet of floor between the bunk and the wall. No shower, no head. I looked at it, and pulled a face.
Captain Alan, who was with me, and was retiring (he came back later!) took one look at it, and turned around and spoke fluently in Chinese! The next thing I knew I was being shown into a much, much nicer cabin!
You can’t be too demanding when you’re brand new. But there are limits. Once you are a known, and welcome commodity, a tuna pilot who gets on well with the crew, then it gets easier to -politely- state your conditions.

Ha! Cockroaches!
Being woken up by a humongous sized cockroach walking over your face is not conducive to restrained language, and feelings of cosmic peace and happiness! It’s happened to me more than once. Or you swing your feet out of bed, and stand on one… The secret there, believe me, is to invest in a caulking gun, like you would use in your bathroom, around the tiles, to stop water leaking past. Then you spend two days and plug up every conceivable gap and access route for the little darlings. Invest in a few cans of insecticide, and you will have very little trouble. The odd invader is quickly repelled.
I leave my rubbish bin outside the door, so no food scraps lie around to attract them. Some roach traps in the cupboards, and you’re set. Once in a while you will get an outbreak, and then it’s a matter of tracking down the source. On two separate occasions I found the source to be a nest in a packet of ‘Quaker Oatmeal’. Plastic bins with sturdy lids is the answer there.
The cockroaches find a plentiful food supply from the scraps and remnants of fish. They infest the net when the ship is in port. The first time the ship makes a set, an entire universe of cockroach cities goes over the side.
Even if a ship was to be really clean, the next time in port, it would soon be infested again.
Some pilots have really been ‘grossed out’ by the cockroaches climbing all over the galley, and all over the bags of rice stored outside the door. It depends a lot on which boat you are on. I was invited onto the ‘JM Martinac ” for supper a few times. The chef would lay out white table cloths, silver and and wine glasses! It was like a luxury cruise liner.
Only problem was that they paid basic plus tonnage, and they did not catch much fish….!

Will you have a microwave? Kind of essential, don’t you think? Hot water maker? Running water? Plenty of cupboard space? Decent sized fridge? You’re going to really miss a decent fridge.

In conclusion, there are two words that apply here:

ask beforehand!

Francis Meyrick

Note 1:

Reader’s input!

Today at 11:55 AM
PART 2 “Moggy’s Tuna Manual ” “Job offers and job duties “

Anyone who boards a tuna boat as part of the crew will have to be at peace with the idea of your residence swarming with insects.
If you can’t be at peace with the idea, you will be assaulted by it.
You don’t necessarily have to sleep with them, but if you think you will ever be on a purse seiner that has eradicated all insect life, you’ve got another bug coming.
I am not too squeamish about bugs, but even after reading Moggy’s insights I wasn’t ready for my first introduction to my uninvited shipmates.
I was boarding my new boat towards the aft, forward of the netting, an the port side.
It was later in the afternoon getting on towards evening, and a shadow being cast from a weather bulkhead cut the wooden catch deck in half on a diagonal.
As I was leaving the sunlit part of the deck, crossing over to the shaded area of the deck, I began to think I was hallucinating seeing a shadowy shimmering carpet on the shaded side.
As I got closer, the shimmering became more identifiable as movement. The decking appeared to be moving.
Then when I was close enough to see the detail of my imaginary magic carpet, I discovered the source of the phenomenon.
The carpet was a horde of closely packed cockroaches scurrying from my advance.
And not your average all American household German cockroach.
No, this cockroach is a more furry, more repulsive, more packed with appendages Asian cockroach.
They are very deceptive. You don’t see where they come from when they advance as you retreat.
Neither do you see where they go to as you advance while they retreat.
They are almost a ghostly, shapeshifting presence.
But by and large they seem to keep to themselves.
I didn’t see many if any in my stateroom, and I don’t remember seeing any in the galley.
If you keep your stateroom clean of food particles, and keep your bathroom clean, they will not have any call to visit you during the night.
And that’s alright by me.
As for smoking, these guys smoke like fiends, and like there’s no tomorrow.
They must spend a good portion of what little their wages are on cigarettes.
I have seen boxes and boxes of brand name cigarettes like Marlboro in storage closets.
If you are a smoker you might have a smoking heyday on your ship.
But like as not, even if you are a smoker, these guys can smoke you under the table.
If they are awake, and have at least 1 hand free, they will have a cigarette hanging from their lips.
It’s not so bad out on the weather deck, but in the confined spaces, their second hand smoke is concentrated enough to be anyone’s firsthand smoke.
For non smokers you can’t beat them, but you can join them.
As a non smoker I spent a good deal of every day moving in relationship to clouds of smoke to the few unclouded spaces on the ship with fresh air.
It was a kind of a dance.
The smokers danced with the devil they brought, while I danced away from the devil I hadn’t.
In a way I almost realized a wish I have always wanted, to be a ballroom dancer.
As I became light on my feet avoiding pockets of smoke, I became a weather deck dancer.
And in a way, I danced my days and troubles away.


Last edited by Francis Meyrick on August 9, 2015, 6:21 pm

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