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Home BLOGS Random Live and Work on a Container Ship

Live and Work on a Container Ship
Written by Martin Machado   
Saturday, 12 December 2009 08:58
Nothing like being on pirate watch in the Gulf of Aden. Overtime with a view: life and work on a container ship by Martin Machado

You have friends with weird jobs and got to know more. Our friend Marty works on cargo ships sailing from port to port across the globe... Always wanted to know what the hell he does exactly and thus this blog was born... Besides being a working man on the sea, Marty makes some great paintings which you'll see below... These are his words and photos.

For almost five months now, I have been living and working as a deckhand on a 906 foot container ship making 57 day runs from New York to Singapore, while hitting many ports in between. We are importing/exporting goods from the Middle East, Asia, and America. As I am writing this we are making our way through the Gulf of Aden on what will be my last trip. Here is a little description of what its like to go to sea in the merchant marine.

I work in the deck department as a watch standing "AB" or Able Bodied Seaman. We are all members of the Sailors Union of the Pacific (SUP), and most of us are out of the San Francisco hall over on Harrison and 1st. I am on the 12 to 4 watch, which means seven days a week, from midnight to four a.m. and from noon to four p.m., I am up on the bridge, steering the ship while in congested areas like the Suez Canal, or being a lookout while we are at sea on auto-helm (a.k.a. "the Iron Mike"). In addition I usually work overtime on deck from eight am to noon, tightening/greasing the containers' lashing gear, chipping rust, painting, or doing whatever odd jobs need to be done. Overtime is where a sailor makes his money, so we take as much as they'll give. I typically get around 12 hours work each day at sea, and in port I can work almost 24 hours straight at times. So any sleep is much appreciated.

The Eastern US Coast and Atlantic Ocean

Our typical route takes us down the coast after leaving New York, stopping briefly in Charleston, Savannah, and Norfolk. In port, the deck crew handles the mooring lines as we dock then works late into the night running the ships crane, taking on steward, deck, and engine stores for the long journey. All the while giant hammerhead cranes maneuver huge containers overhead as longshoremen load and unload cargo nonstop through the night with shuttering crashes of steel against steel. When our work is done we run ashore for our few free hours to make fools of ourselves, sticking out like sore thumbs with our international gang of miscreants in the conservative South. We go most of the East Coast on almost no sleep, sometimes hitting ports for no longer than half a day, and breathe a sigh of relief when finally heading out to sea. Crossing the Atlantic flies by in under a week. We usually take a northerly curve called a "Great Circle" saving hundreds of nautical miles based on the curvature of the earth, similar to how a trans-continental plane may take a polar route. Sometimes we take a rhumbline or even slightly southerly route to avoid heavy north Atlantic storms.

On deck we tighten the lashing gear on the containers to keep them safe in rough seas offshore. While on watch on the bridge there is nothing but time to think, listen to music, stargaze, swap stories with the mate on watch, and just take in the scenery. As the coastal silt drops, the water becomes the most vibrant blue you can imagine. Further offshore you begin to see thick clumps of Sargasso Weed, flying fish, whales, and occasionally huge pods of dolphins. We will go many days without seeing any traffic at all. However, on our last crossing we were hailed by the coast guard to come to the assistance of a sailboat that had a broken rudder over 400 miles off the coast. We pulled alongside the boat during a storm, but the owner refused to abandon ship and told us to continue on. We had the feeling he wasn't speaking for his shipmates. Sure enough we heard days later they all got very sick and were evacuated by a helicopter that had to refuel mid flight on a military ship, leaving their 45 foot ketch to the sea.

The Mediterranean

For some reason timing wise, I am usually at the helm through the narrow Straight of Gibraltar, which marks the entrance to the Mediterranean with the impressive Morocco Rock to the south. In the shipping lanes we are a bit far to really make out the land, but you can finally smell the earth and the brine of the fishing ports. At night the lights of Spain are to the North and Algeria to the South. We slip between Sicily and Malta, and past a few small Greek Islands. The shipping traffic is more congested and can often resemble a freeway. Surprisingly, the worst conditions I have seen on the voyage have been in the Med. It can go from glass-smooth water to 70 knot gusts and 10 meter wind waves in the matter of a day.

The vhf radio, which here is not regulated like in the states, becomes a constant source of entertainment and misery at the same time. Some ship will transmit a Celine Dion song for way too long, then the audio from a fisherman's favorite porno will pierce the airwaves. There are a series of always touched upon racial taunts about the predominant seagoing nationalities; some imitate the formal call of a port control calling a ship. "This is port banana calling the Pilipino Monkeys, come in Monkey. How many tons of banana's do you have on board?" Then a Pilipino sailor will curse out the white bastards of the north and call his countrymen to join in. At some point someone will start grilling the Italians, saying "Maaaaaaarrrriioooooooo" in a long drawn out frog voice. No one is safe from the insults, and as Americans it is highly advised to stay silent because once they hear your accent you will not hear the end of the harassment.

The Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden

Pretty soon we reach Egypt and begin the transit through the Suez Canal, which connects the Med to the Red Sea. It is standard procedure to bribe all Egyptians with cartons of cigarettes. You literally will not be put in a convoy if you do not cough them up. American's are known for being particularly generous with tobacco and between the agents, pilots, and line handlers that come onboard, we typically average about 20 cartons of Marlboro's each passage. "Please for my family, one more carton, I know you have." We pick up a small boat of line-handlers with our crane. The line-handlers are onboard to help us if we must temporarily tie up to the side of the canal to let another convoy pass, and to sell us useless Egyptian tourist crap made in China. I bought some fishing line and lures and made a ghetto fishing pole for while we're at anchor. We pass small lush irrigated farming communities, the desert of the Sinai Peninsula, ramshackle Egyptian villages, and finally the glittering resort town at the mouth of Port Suez.

As we enter the Red Sea the water gets really warm (which kills our ocean cooled air conditioning) and we begin to prepare for pirate country. There are designated lanes that are recommended for passing through the Gulf of Aden. This makes it easier for warships to patrol the enormous area and occasionally lead convoys for the slower ships. Still we hear reports of attacks all the time. Some are failed attempts, while others are quite successful. We rig large pointed metal bars on the stern, designed so that if a grappling hook was thrown, the bars would break free and fall on a pirates. As we enter the most dangerous area off the Somalian coast, the deck crew rotates lookouts on the stern throughout the nights. Pirates are known to have Rocket Powered Grenades; all we have are fire hoses that we rigged to the rails. We have not had any trouble so far, but it can be a bit frightening sitting there in the dark on calm night with nothing but a pocket knife to defend yourself.

Foreign Ports: Oman, Dubai, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Singapore

Once into the Arabian Sea, we begin hitting our foreign ports in rapid succession after about 15 days without touching land. Salalah, Oman, was a surprisingly beautiful port with dry mountains running along gorgeous beaches with good surf! US Navy and Marines were friendly but drunk and embarrassing at a local British style pub, starting U-S-A! cheers among the scornful stares of Muslim locals, who oddly enough are there for the bowling alley. Dubai is a jarring mix of Middle Eastern oil money and Western eccentricism. Women fully covered in black cloth, peer out from Gucci sunglasses. They boast the biggest and best: hotels, skyscrapers, malls, and even man made islands. I visited one mall in particular with an indoor ski slope! The port however, Jebel Ali, is a city unto itself and was a dramatic juxtaposition with tributaries of thousands of bicycling men in blue boiler suits flowing to/from labor camps to factories and packing yards.

In some ports, such as Pakistan, we are required to keep a gangway watch because of the possible risk of terrorism, even with a Pakistani security guard standing by with a sawed off shotgun at the foot of the dock. In some ways this is nice because we get to hang out with the local stevedores a bit, learning phrases in their language and finding out what life is like in their country. We were warned not to go ashore there for risk of decapitation, but some SUP sailors go anyways, because SUP is awesome.

Finally we hit Singapore, our eastern most port and longest dock period. Pretty much everyone goes ashore at some point. Some do sightseeing, some go to bars, and honestly some go straight to whorehouses. Singapore, being the mall-loving place that it is, even has a mall of prostitutes known to sailors as "Four Floors of Whores." I am not condoning it, but the sex trade is a harsh reality that I'm learning exists just about everywhere. Sadly some of these older sailors have been at sea for literally decades of their lives and being unable to keep a relationship with a normal woman, turn to other options while on shore. But there is plenty more to do and see in Singapore, it's a very clean and modern city with all the amenities.

Our last port on our way home is Colombo, Sri Lanka. We usually only get a few hours to jump in one of those three wheeled open cabs and take a whirlwind tour through the city. There are elaborate Buddhist temples (some with elephants in them), great food, and super cheap but excellent teashops. And just like that we are rushed out of Sri Lanka and start the long journey home to New York, where after a sleepless night running ashore to visit friends, it starts all over again before you know it.

Shipboard Living

We have a lot of fun here onboard, and although its not uncommon to walk past two crew members, toe to toe, screaming at each other in a passageway, I've yet to see anything actually come to blows. Shipmates tell me stories of brawls and knife fights on other ships, but typically like in most cases ashore, the really surly tough guys are usually the most sensitive and are the first to fake an injury to get out of their contract to get flown home.

One of my best pals on board is a 65 year-old Pilipino man named Charlie, who cracks me up on a regular basis despite the fact that he managed to push my camera off a two story catwalk and smash my lens to pieces. Yesterday while I was rubbing the sleep out of my eyes as we started overtime work, he turned to me and said "Martin, you know de scientists are trying to find if there is water on de Mars, an if der is water, den der are trees, an if der are de trees, den der are birdies!" Then he started laughing his ass off. Now if that doesn't cheer you up I don't know what will! For the most part everyone gets along pretty well and stays in good spirits by joking around a ton. We are allowed alcohol onboard so that helps too, but of course not on or four hours before work shifts. We also have a huge DVD and book library on board for entertainment. Personally I like to retreat to my room to do a little arting, but with my schedule I usually can only fit in an hour or so of painting time a day before eating dinner and crashing. In addition, when I'm bored I like to put messages in beer bottles, seal them with wax, and drop them overboard when far out to sea. I wonder if I'll hear back from anyone?

Below are some of Marty's paintings

http://www.martinmachado.com/ {moscomment}

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The Albatross and the Shipping Container

Beautiful piece entitled "The Albatross and the Shipping Container", Ink on Paper, Mounted to Panel, 47" Diameter, by San Francisco based Martin Machado now on display at FFDG. Stop in Saturday (1-6pm) to view the group show "Salt the Skies" now running through April 19th. 2277 Mission St. at 19th.


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Flavio Samelo's Downtown Sao Paulo Murals

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"Portrait of a Slugger 19" by Hiro Kurata

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"Veins of Octulen" by Curiot at FFDG

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John French with Hasselblad by Lola Dupre

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contact FF

"Arrangement" by Michelle Fleck
Friday, 18 April 2014 10:23

This morning we take a closer look at this beautiful painting by San Francisco based Michelle Fleck now showing at FFDG.

Arrangement measures 24"x30", acrylic and aerosol on panel - inquires: info(at)ffdg.net

Michelle Fleck is a painter living in San Francisco. Her work focuses on the relationship between man and the landscape, and the marks we leave on it. Influenced by everyday life in the city, her paintings serve as snapshots of an ongoing intersection of the natural and man-made world. She strives to make work that has a sense of relevancy in a culture driven by a need for change and newness.

 

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Wednesday, 16 June 2010 16:39


Nychos Friday @Fifty24SF
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SAN FRANCISCO --- You've seen the murals pop up around town the last week from this Austrian street artist as he prepares for his solo show at Fifty24SF opening this Friday, 4/18.

GET THE SHOW DETAILS --- a bunch of NYCHOS

 

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Wednesday, 25 April 2012 10:56

 

Banksy's Mobile Lovers
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I love you, dear.... Huh? Wut?

 

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Check photos from his last San Francisco solo show in 2012, and mark your calendar for August as his next solo show opens at FFDG.

Beering with Fish at his favorite watering hole, Zeitgeist

 

Statue Of A Homeless Jesus Startles A Wealthy Community
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Art or Vandalism? See the World’s First Graffiti Drone
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Think how high those throw ups can be now.

 

OB Shirt by Tucker Nichols
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Open House Sunday - Headland Center for the Arts
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Have you been to the Headland Center for the Arts in the Marin Headlands?

Located in the beautiful ocean-side Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Headlands artists programs support artists of all disciplines—from visual artists to performers, musicians, writers, and videographers—and provide opportunities for independent and collaborative creative work.

This Sunday's Open House runs 12-5pm - FREE & DETAILS

 

Is It Curtains For San Francisco's Art Scene?
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We all know that San Francisco is going through aches and (growing?)/ shrinking artist pains these days as San Francisco property values sky rocket due to the tech infestation going on around the entire Bay Area. Maybe you work in tech and love it, but since this is an art website, we're interested to how this is affecting artists trying to make ends meet.

Some galleries have been forced to close due to 300% rent hikes. Many artists have fled to Oakland, LA and NYC in search of affordable housing and a more vibrant art scene... But we wanna know what you think of how it's going here in San Francisco. How are you making it work? What's your take on the art scene or lack there of? Do you think things are on the up and up or down and out here in San Francisco? Are artists a bunch of complainers and every thing looks great or is it curtains for San Francisco's artistic community? Thoughts

The Rena Bransten Gallery is packing up their 77 Geary space to make way for tech company MuleSoft

 

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Wednesday, 25 August 2010 11:50


+SF

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FULL CALENDARS: BAY AREA | NYC | LA

 


 

 

 

Jeremy Fish at LA's Mark Moore Gallery

San Francisco based Fecal Pal Jeremy Fish opened his latest solo show Hunting Trophies at LA's Mark Moore Gallery last week to massive crowds and cabin walls lined with imagery pertaining to modern conquest and obsession.


John Felix Arnold III on the Road to NYC

Well, John Felix Arnold III is at it again. This time, he and Carolyn LeBourgios packed an entire show into the back of a Prius and drove across the country to install it at Superchief Gallery in NYC. I met with him last week as he told me about the trip over delicious burritos at Taqueria Cancun (which is right across the street from FFDG and serves what I think is the best burrito in the city) as the self proclaimed "Only overweight artist in the game" spilled all the details.


FRENCH in Melbourne

London based illustrator FRENCH recently held a show of new works at the Melbourne based Mild Manners


Henry Gunderson at Ever Gold, SF

Ever Gold opened a new solo show by NYC based Henry Gunderson a couple Saturday nights ago and it was literally packed. So packed I couldn't actually see most of the art - but a big crowd doesn't seem like a problem. I got a good laugh at what I would call the 'cock climbing wall' as it was one of the few pieces I could see over the crowd. I haven't gotten a chance to go back and check it all out again, but I'm definitely going to as the paintings that I could get a peek at were really high quality and intruiguing. You should do the same.


Mario Wagner @Hashimoto

Mario Wagner (Berkeley) opened his new solo show A Glow that Transfers Creativity last Saturday night at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco.


Serge Gay Jr. @Spoke Art

The paintings in the show are each influenced by a musician, ranging from Freddy Mercury, to Madonna, to A Tribe Called Quest and they are so stylistically consistent with each musician's persona that they read as a cohesive body of work with incredible variation. If you told me they were each painted by a different person, I would not hesitate to believe you and it's really great to see a solo show with so much variety. The show is fun, poppy, very well done, and absolutely worth a look and maybe even a listen.


NYCHOS Mural on Ashbury and Haight

NYCHOS completed this great new mural on the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco on Tuesday. Looks Amazing.


Sun Milk in Vienna

With rising rent in SF and knowing mostly other young artists without capitol, I desired a way to live rent free, have a space to do my craft, and get to see more of the world. Inspired by the many historical artists who have longed similar longings I discovered the beauty of artist residencies. Lilo runs Adhoc Collective in Vienna which not only has a fully equipped artists creative studio, but an indoor halfpipe, and private artist quarters. It was like a modern day castle or skate cathedral. It exists in almost a utopic state, totally free to those that apply and come with a real passion for both art and skateboarding


"How To Lose Yourself Completely" by Bryan Schnelle

I just wanted to share with you a piece I recently finished which took me 4 years to complete. Titled "How To Lose Yourself Completely (The September Issue)", it consists of a copy of the September 2007 issue of Vogue magazine (the issue they made the documentary about) with all faces masked with a sharpie, and everything else entirely whited out. 840 pages of fun. -Bryan Schnelle


Tyler Bewley ~ Recent Works

Some great work from San Francisco based Tyler Bewley.


Kirk Maxson and Alexis Mackenzie at Eleanor Harwood Gallery

While walking our way across San Francisco on Saturday we swung through the opening receptions for Kirk Maxson and Alexis Mackenzie at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in the Mission.


Jeremy Fish Solo Show in Los Angeles

Jeremy Fish opens Hunting Trophies tonight, Saturday April 5th, at the Los Angeles based Mark Moore Gallery. The show features new work from Fish inside the "hunting lodge" where viewers climb inside the head of the hunter and explore the history of all the animals he's killed.


The Albatross and the Shipping Container

Beautiful piece entitled "The Albatross and the Shipping Container", Ink on Paper, Mounted to Panel, 47" Diameter, by San Francisco based Martin Machado now on display at FFDG. Stop in Saturday (1-6pm) to view the group show "Salt the Skies" now running through April 19th. 2277 Mission St. at 19th.


The Marsh Barge - Traveling the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to quit my job, move out of my house, leave everything and travel again. So on August 21, 2013 I pushed a canoe packed full of gear into the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, along with four of my best friends. Exactly 100 days later, I arrived at a marina near the Gulf of Mexico in a sailboat.


Flavio Samelo's Downtown Sao Paulo Murals

Our buddy Flavio Samelo down there in Brazil does all kinds of great work including this recent mural project in downtown Sao Paulo in front of one of the most important modern buildings of Oscar Niemeyer from the 60's, THE COPAN.


John Trippe, FFDG and Fecalface.com Founder, Stepping Down From Daily Operations

John Trippe, founder, owner and curator of FecalFace.com and the Mission District art gallery FFDG, announced today that he will stepping down from daily operations of the two ventures to seek new career opportunities.


High 5s - Get Your Feet Wet

I purchased one of the first digital cameras when Fecal Face went online in 2000. It was a massive Kodak with 2 mega pixels


"Touching Base" by Schuyler Beecroft

San Francisco based Schuyler Beecroft emailed over the great new series of paintings he's completed entitled "Touching Base", 16x20in on mounted wood panel. Like them.


Flume - Space Cadet (ft. Ghostface Killah & Autre Ne Veut)

Buddies Jay Howell & Jim Dirschberger did this great video produced by Forest City Rockers.


Fire Shelter for Papay Gyro Nights 2014

Last year we posted photos from another one of Simon Hjermind Jensen's Fire Shelters he's made in Copenhagen. This time around the Copenhagen based artist/ designer created one for the Papay Gyro Nights 2014 way up in on the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland.


"Portrait of a Slugger 19" by Hiro Kurata

Beautiful painting by NYC based Hiro Kurata now on display at SF's FFDG through April 19th as part of the group show "Salt the Skies".


"Veins of Octulen" by Curiot at FFDG

"Salt the Skies" opened on the 21st at FFDG and features this great piece by Mexico City based Curiot (Favio Martinez) whose sold out 2013 show Age of Omuktlans ran at FFDG. His forthcoming solo show is slated for March 2015.


Rome's Alice Pasquini ~Mural+

Rome based multimedia artist Alice Pasquini emailed over a recent mural completed in the historic working class neighborhood of Rome called Tufello.


Project M/3 in Berlin curated by NUART

BERLIN --- Project M is a temporary art project with the objective to improve the neighborhood, to push creativity and to connect people. At regular intervals Urban Nation with director Yasha Young invites a group of internationally reclaimed contemporary urban artists to re-design the facade and shop windows of a prominent residential building in Berlin, while it is being reconstructed.


John French with Hasselblad by Lola Dupre

"John French with Hasselblad", photo collage/ hand cut paper on wooden panel, by Lola Dupre which will be part of tomorrow's opening of "Salt the Skies" at FFDG in San Francisco. 2277 Mission St. (6-9pm) - RSVP here.


"Salt the Skies" at FFDG Opening Fri, Mar 21st

FFDG's spring show "Salt the Skies" is set to open on Friday, March 21st (6-9pm) -- Featuring works by Brett Amory, John Felix Arnold, Mario Ayala, Jud Bergeron, Curiot (Favio Martinez), Christopher Burch, Lola Dupre, Michelle Fleck, Matt Gonzalez, Hiro Kurata, Marty Machado, Mark Mulroney, and Nicomi Nix Turner


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