Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Mekong River trade

I took a couple of weeks off and sailed upriver on the Mekong from Saigon to Phnom Penh, across Lake Tonle Sap to Siem Reap. We sailed in the Monsoon Season (through the weather was pretty good) but the big 'plus' was that the Mekong was in flood and Tonle Sap was at full capacity, and our ship was able to navigate the full voyage.

Apart from being cosseted in luxury aboard a small river cruise ship, I was 'geeking out' on the inventiveness of the Vietnamese and Cambodian mariners (can I call them that?) whose life and livelihood is derived from the River.

There is no end to the ingenuity displayed when loading rice husks. A byproduct of rice threshing, it is used as fuel for cooking, firing pottery and as cattle feed to name a just a few. Because the husks are so light, the utility river craft will never get down to their marks (an abstract concept on the waterway). Boat crews rig outrigger posts and re-bar mesh overlaid with plastic netting to create hoppers.

Loading rice husks at the riverside rice mill

Full laden and ready to depart
Fully laden with husks and tarp'ed to protect from the monsoon rains, the wooden river boats set sail with the skipper sitting on the wheelhouse top, steering with his feet. We saw dozens of these river craft plying their trade in rice, cement, timber and sand.

Next in the River pecking order were the self-propelled barges carrying sand from the Upper Mekong and Cambodia down to Saigon and further to feed the insatiable demand for construction materials and concrete. The alluvial sand is dredged from the river using cranes barges, grabs and suction dredged.

The barges actually have a Loadline marked on the hull, about 150 cm below the deck edge. We only saw the Loadline when the barges were in ballast back up the River. Actual practices was to load the barge until the decks were awash and water was lapping around the forward wheelhouse and after accommodation. Sometime they sink...

Decks awash
 These barges are family enterprises and often have Mum and the kids living aboard.

LPG 'Senna 3' bound downriver

The one SOLAS vessel seen on the River was a Thai LPG tanker 'Senna 3', on her way downriver after discharged at Phnom Penh. She was still almost 160 Nm steaming to the South China Sea at this point.

I couldn't finishing the post without attempting to convey the serenity of an early morning on the River. Highly recommended destination and idyllic means of transportation.

The Antipodean Mariner
September 2017

Monday, 10 July 2017

Failed D&A test - dismiss or rehabilitate

The Offshore Oil and Gas exploration and extraction industry operates globally with a strict 'zero tolerance' to drugs and alcohol in the workplace. Seafarers and Rig Crews are routinely tested before and during their employment for alcohol and drugs.

A Master claimed he had been unfairly dismissed after failing a pre-joining breath alcohol test. His case was heard in Australia's Fair Work Commission and the decision published online. In Paragraph 122 of the decision, the Commissioner makes specific reference to the perceived binary decision facing the Company's management;
It is not apparent that any other disciplinary outcome was considered for Captain Rust. Whilst I accepted above that [the Company Manager] considered Captain Rust’s response prior to making the decision to dismiss him I am not convinced that he considered if rehabilitation (as is allowed under the Offshore Drug and Alcohol Policy) or any other penalty was a possibility. It appears that the consideration of penalty was binary – dismissal or not dismissal.
In this respect the consideration by the Company was, in the circumstances, too narrow and that the Master's dismissal was harsh [Para 126].

In practically interpreting and enforcing an Industry-compliant Drug and Alcohol Policy, the question of the binary penalty remains unresolved. Drugs and alcohol are prohibited aboard offshore supply vessels, rigs and offshore installations for the safety of individuals, assets and the environment. D&A testing is routinely conducted to minimise the probability that individuals affected by alcohol or drugs will, by their actions, contribute to an accident or incident at sea that may harm them and others.

If a drug and alcohol free workplace is established as the industry norm, employees educated in the policy, a testing regime established and penalties for breach understood are there alternatives to the binary penalty? Does an individual stopped by a Police Officer when driving with an excess alcohol content have a non-binary penalty option? Can that individual bargain with the Police Officer that a 'zero tolerance' policy by the Police is unfair and that alcohol or substance rehabilitation is an alternative to the penalty in law after failing a breath test?

Access to non-binary penalties have two critical pre-cursors;
  1. The prior self-recognition or self-awareness of the issue by the individual, and
  2. The self-declaration of unfitness or breach by the individual before detection.
Non-binary penalties which have to consider the undeclared personal, emotional and social circumstances of an individual weaken the chain of collective accountability between seafarers and rig crews working in a hazardous and hostile offshore environment, and in my opinion that compromises safety.

The Antipodean Mariner
July 2017

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Celestial Navigation

This weekend, I dusted off my sextant and practised the art of celestial navigation on the shores of Port Phillip Bay.

Shooting the Sun, Port Phillip Bay
Celestial navigation, the practice of fixing position on the earth's surface (at sea and on land), has been rendered technologically obsolete by the Global Positioning System and GPS receivers being miniaturised and incorporated into smartphones, vehicle trackers and integrated navigation systems.

GPS has proven to be remarkable robust and no commercial vessel can effectively navigate without the reliability and precision provided by the constellation of US-developed and maintained satellites.

There are Celestial Navigation blogs and web resources for readers interested in the mathematics of spherical trigonometry. Latitude was the first dimension to be accurately calculated, and for centuries early mariners would sail east or west along the known latitude of a port, island or headland. It was with the development of the chronometer by John Harrison in 1773 that finally enabled time to accurately kept at sea and the celestial position of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars to be calculated by the mariner. Nautical tables by Norie and Bowditch reduced the complex calculations into additive logarithmic tables capable of use by mariners (and not mathematicians) at sea.

With a sextant, a watch and the Nautical Almanac it's possible to fix a Line of Position (LOP) to an accuracy of about two nautical miles anywhere on the Earth's surface. The caveat of the LOP is that multiple LOP's need to be plotted and intersected to fix a position. The Sun shines most days and is by far the most 'useable' celestial body for mariners. On an ocean passage, LOP's calculated from Sun sights taken in the morning are run forward at the vessel's course and speed to the calculated time of Noon (Meridian Passage). The latitude is calculated from the highest altitude that the Sun is observed when it crosses the ship's (and Observer's) meridian.

To 'shoot the sun' from terra firma, I needed a sea horizon and a clear sky. Queenscliff, Victoria sits just inside The Rip, Port Phillip Bay's channel to Bass Strait. The Observation Tower at the marina gave height and a clear horizon past Swan Island to the north east.

Nries Tables, Sight Book and Nautical Almanac
For a morning sight (Sun rising), the sextant measures the angle between the horizon and lower limb (edge) of the sun. Corrections for Height of Eye, refraction and the Sun's diameter are applied to calculate the Observed Altitude - the angle between the centre of the sun and horizontal plane. Using an assumed position (DR, Dead Reckoning) and the Nautical Almanac, the Local Hour Angle and Declination of the Sun provide the data to calculate the True Altitude - the altitude of the Sun if the mariner was at the DR position.

Data for my 'best' sight on Saturday 1st July 2017:

UTC/GMT: 00:24:19
DR Latitude: 38० 15.9' S
DR Longitude: 144० 40.2' E
Height of Eye: 25 metres
Sextant Altitude (corrected for Index Error): 22० 18.8'

If followers of the Blog would like the solution, drop me a line and I'll send you the workings. There are free Android apps on Google Play Store which will calculate the altitude and plot the intersecting longitude, and the Nautical Almanac is available online as a PDF with Correction Tables. With the information needed freely available online, the biggest hurdle is getting yours hands on a sextant. A navigation quality drum micrometer instrument (not one of those faux reproduction antiques) will cost $300 - $500 (Tamiya, Davis, C. Plath, Husun).

The 'impracticality' of celestial navigation is that it takes up to three hours to fix position using the sun, and around two hours (pre-calculation of altitudes and azimuths, sights and plotting) for stars. Pre-GPS, mariners had to allow for wider 'position ambiguity' which is no longer tolerable in the commercial world of shipping. It is however, an art and practice worth preserving.

The Antipodean Mariner

Nautical Almanac and Correction Tables
Nautical Astronomy App (Google)

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Classic car

While not exactly news, I have been able to widen my 'stable' to include a classic car (well, classic in my eyes).

Bikes are still my big love, but they are a solitary pursuit. In Victoria, the regulations for owning 'hobby' vehicles has been modernised and vehicles 25 years and older can be registered for 45 or 90 days personal use without the need to gazette Car Club events or meetings.

I started looking around for a Saab 900 Turbo (pre-1988), but good examples with high kilometres were still fetching over $7,000. Good fortune smiled on me when I dropped a colleague home and spotted an unloved, gold Mercedes Benz parked in front of his house. Commenting that I was looking to buy a classic car, his lightning-quick comeback was that he was looking to get rid of one.

Day 1 - clean, just apply cash

The car, a W126 380SE saloon, had been his personal drive and then gradually dropped down the pecking order until I saw it with windows down and full of leaves on the street. On a handshake and an undertaking to see whether it was worth saving, I got the car running next day with jumper leads and drove it home. A specialist Mercedes Benz mechanic gave it the 'once over' and said that while it has good bones, it would take about $6,000 in repairs to get a good $3,000 car (his words exactly).

The Mercedes Benz W126 series was one of the Company's most successful and longest production runs. Between the W126's launch in 1979, and replacement by the W140 series in 1991, over 818,000 saloon in the standard and long wheel base 'L' variants. 58,000 of the first release 380SE's were produced between 1979 and 1985, before the 3.8 litre V8 engine was upsized to 4.2 litres (420SE) from 1985 to 1991.

My main reasons for buying the car and embarking on the preservation (not restoration) route were;
  • The car only had 160,000 kilometres on the odometer and a service history through its two Owners over 28 years.
  • The paint and body were in great condition, with clear coat intact no rust in the chassis.
  • The leather interior was perfect.
Before - rust in the drivers door
After - insert panel, primed and painted

Small jobs that I was able to do myself included cutting out a rust patch in the driver's door for the insertion (with some help) of a steel panel, replacement of the electric window mechanisms and new muffler. Big jobs that were preformed in the workshop were splitting the transmission for a seal replacement, refurbished brake discs and calipers and water pump. Subsequently, I have had the Climate Control system fully overhauled after it started random, menopausal hot and cold flushes. The wheels have also been refurbished and powder coated.

M116 3.8 litre V8 with 4 -Speed electronic shift auto

2016 Flemington Classic Showcase

A recent article press article explained (in part) the surge in interest in preserving 1970's and 80's-era cars, one of the main factors being they drive like a modern car. 1950's and 60's British cars drove like pigs (I used to own a 1964 Daimler 2.5 V8), were never designed to be maintained, had no power steering and few creature comforts. A decade and a half of design development, combined German engineering, is still delivering an affordable and enjoyable driving experience. The car gets driven every weekend and is now at 186,000 km (115,000 miles) after 32 years. Not an investment grade car but good for the soul.

The Antipodean Mariner
May 2017

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Road Trip in Review

In reviewing the road trip, what worked (or exceeded expectations) and what was a waste of space.

The Bikes
The bikes performed flawlessly and we had no mechanical issues with either the Triumph or BMW. To put the distance into some sort of internationally recongnised context, the transcontinental USA crossing - Los Angeles to New York via Chicago and back is 9,004 km. 

Bruce's Metzler tyres were in great condition at the end of the trip, and wear was hard to discern. The Triumph's Michelin Road Pilot 4 tyres are still legal but have heavily profiled, especially the front tyre. The first few days heading north, through South Australia and the North Territory, we experienced strong SE cross winds, and think that the combination of a heavier bike 'leaning' in to wind, fairing down force and road camber cut up the right side of the tyre. No scary moments though, and they have done their job.

We started to trip checking oil and tyre pressures, and ended just giving the tyres a cursory glance for any nicks or embedded objects. The Triumph was always able to 500 km+ range,  while the BMW, with a 16L tank, had about 370 km between drinks.

The Kit
We were pretty disciplined in having pack lists, and took a minimum of gear. The most useful cooking appliance was the Jetboil, which gave us breakfast and mid-day tea and coffee. One large cannister lasted the whole trip with 'change'. We had a second combination of two pans and gas ring, which was used to prepare additional dishes when we were stuck in Mt Isa with just our emergency rations.  The second cooker was useful for two, but the Jetboil was sufficient for one.

My Samsung S5 Galaxy phone and Galaxy S2 Tablet were perfect for recording the trip. The Canon G11, while a beautiful camera, rarely came out of its case as any shots were 'stranded' until they could be uploaded to a PC or laptop. The telephoto lens and tripod never saw action. Similar with the GoPro Hero 3 - high maintenance to setup and to get good results with.

The Helinox stretcher and campfire chair were invaluable for relaxation and a good night's sleep. Lightweight and compact, both are highly recommended for the road. The collapsible fireplace was well used and a great way to end a night. LED lamps lasted for ages and gave good light for setting up. The water bladder was good for roadside stops, but two 1L water bottles would have just as good, and cheaper.

We carried UHT milk, porridge sachets, tea and coffee for breakfast and one 'reserve' meal of canned tuna and boiled rice. We could have ditched  (or eaten) the reserve meal as we could always get fast food at Roadhouses, towns or servos.

My Nolan N44 helmet, in open face configuration, provided great peripheral vision, wind protection and Scala Rider G9 nice sounds. Music is a great filler for the long road sections and gave good enough sound through foam ear defenders.

Safety Kit
Quite a lot of what we carried fitted into the 'just in case' category - wet weather gear, first aid, tool kit, puncture repair kit, CB radio and EPIRB. As we ended up staying on well traveled roads, the CB and EPIRB were overkill and I would skip these next time unless long, remote off-road sections were planned.

I wish I had taken...
A summer weight, vented jacket for the tropics - one 'three seasons' jacket was too hot for the NT and Queensland.

Junk that did a trip around Australia 
Apart from the camera kit, the AM/FM/SW radio wasn't used as we had either 3G/4G coverage or WiFi at the Roadhouses or camping grounds for the whole trip. Outback WiFi was expensive but an option. The fuel bladder was unused, and we were able to get fuel  (sometimes only 91 Regular) at about 200 km intervals. Both bikes adapted to the 91 RON with their knock sensors and 95 RON was usually available on the major highways. Topping up with the highest RON octane meant the bikes always had better than 91 in the tanks. There is a fuel app which lists grades available by location, but probably of use to the more serious off-roaders.

The bike has had a fresh change of oil and new filter. I managed to get the unloaded beast up on the workshop bench, stripped off the fairing panels and clean out the inaccessible road grime. The bikes is well within Triumph's 16,0000 km service intervals, but I have changed the synthetic oil more frequently. 10,000 km oil and filter intervals are inexpensive maintenance and satisfying to do in the workshop.

Loved up, ready for the next adventure
From here, the BMW F800ST is going to be serviced and list for sale, and I have to get a job. I'm working on a Snapfish book for us both, with the best of the photos. So much (good) to reflect on and use as a basis for 2019's South America tour (in planning) through Peru, Chile and Argentina.

The Antipodean Mariner

Friday, 28 April 2017

Familiar country

The final push to home from Yackandandah was all familiar country for  me and the Triumph. Beechworth, Oxley, Whitfield, Mansfield and Healesville rolled by through grey drizzle and rain until Eltham and home at 15:00 on Thursday 27th of April, 26 days after leaving and 337 km for the day.

Trip data was 9,940 km elapsed, and the bike consumed 463 litres of fuel. Average fuel consumption was 4.6 litres/100km, or 61 miles per gallon. Apart from a set of totally knackered tyres, the bike has survived the trip intact.

Bruce is on a plane back to New Zealand and the road trip has ended. Another post with an After Action Review of what worked well, and what we'd do differently next time, will follow. Over the bottle of red last night, its been decided that the next road trip will be South America in 2019.

The Antipodean Mariners

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Nearly home

Today's route was always going to be an 'on the day' decision, with Victoria enduring it's second cold snap and snow forecast. Taking a punt on clear sky, I headed south through Cooma, Jindabyne and Thredbo and had the road to myself. Fresh snow was visible on the tops, and the Ice Warning showed on the dash with 2C the lowest seen passing over the saddle at Dead Horse Gap.

On the descent I stopped at Leather Barrel Creek and cooked up lunch in the light drizzle. Entirely surrounded by bush and a raging stream, Ramen noodles and coffee never tasted so good.

The only other diversion was a stop at Scammell's Lookout, facing back up to Mt Kosciusko.

I had planned to spend this, the final night of the road trip, symbolically in my tent but with the temperature 10C and falling I have kipped down in a cabin in Yackandandah. The trip meter has stopped reading, but by adding up the last three days I'm at 9,593km tonight. Expect to see 10,000km roll past tomorrow before Eltham North hoves into view. Bruce has arrived in Melbourne and a last get-together tomorrow night before he returns to Auckland. Off to the pub for a final meal.

The Antipodean Mariner