Saturday, May 23, 2015


I am in the process of making an inventory of my late Dad's marine negative collection. Dad (Harry McDonald) was a well known "historian" here on the Puget Sound until his passing in the mid-80's. I will be listing the collection, along with several dozen 35mm original slides, on eBay. Watch this space!

I inherited a massive problem of cataloging his collection, hampered by two obstacles; his hand writing, and lack of documentation.

By and by I encountered a negative envelope cryptically marked "UFO May 1967 Alaska." As my Dad was not one who played "games" I dropped the negative into my scanner. Low and behold this image appeared. And there on the side, "UFO."

The more I got to studying it, it soon became clear from the rigging, that it was some sort of life saving device.

Turning to Google, within moments I discovered this "UFO" was, indeed, an Oil Platform Rescue Pod, a.k.a. capsule.

Furthermore, I found a fellow who had purchased a number of surplus pods, creating an unusual motel with them!

Rescue Pods or Capsules should not be confused with Free Fall Life Boats.   

Free Fall life boats are outfitted with a motor, allowing them movement, as  introduced to the "public" by Tom Hanks - Captain Phillips - on the Maersk Alabama.

The Rescue Pod was not powered; simply an escape mechanism from a platform emergency.

Now the photo my Dad took made sense. He was working for Foss, involved in towing drill jackets from Oakland California to newly developed oil finds in Cook Inlet. And this rescue pod was on a Foss barge, to be delivered to one of several drilling rigs being installed on the Middle Ground Shoal of Cook Inlet in 1964/1967.

Middle Ground Shoal Oil Field is in the Anchorage Basin, about 52 miles west-southwest of Anchorage, and located centrally in Cook Inlet.

Cook Inlet is probably one of the most difficult marine areas in the world in which to look for and develop oil reserves. Conditions, such as 25-35-ft tides, 6-8-knot tidal currents, strong winds, and pack ice make all phases of the operation extremely hazardous and tax the ingenuity of the men involved.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Row RO-RO your TOTE!

I had a dental appointment over in Seattle last Friday (May 15th) which requires riding the Washington State Ferry system across the Salish Sea, which, when I chat with my sister, I refer to as "the River," a throw-back to 25 years of living in Vancouver Washington, when reference was made to "this side of the river" or "that side of the river."

Whenever I catch the 11:55 a.m. ride to Edmond's, I always see the RO-RO Midnight Sun. That's because she is operated by Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE). Both she and her identical twin sister RO-RO North Star, provide a proven, reliable conveyer belt between Tacoma, Washington and Anchorage, Alaska, operating on a very disciplined schedule.

While two rail barge services run to Whittier, Alaska; one from Seattle, the other from Prince Rupert, TOTE caters to truck trailers and motor vehicles - from cars, campers, school buses, and motor homes - in an enclosed environment, free of salt water spray.

And quickly! Three day service between the two ports - which may become gnarly in the Winter. The Gulf of Alaska is very unforgiving. As a young man, I experienced a "blow" on the Gulf which increased our crossing of the Gulf from three days to seven! Motor vehicles can do the Alaska Highway route, such as that provided by Lynden.

As we learned in the Höegh Osaka incident, one unit of vehicle capacity is known as the CEU (Car Equivalent Unit.) Another method for estimating capacity is LL (Lane Length,) reasonable considering the wide range of motor vehicle lengths, from Mini Coopers to over-sized construction material loads.

The "official" specifications published by the shipbuilder, states the TOTE Orca Class as 600 FEU plus 200 automobiles.

•  TEU = Twenty foot Equivalent Unit
•  FEU = Forty foot Equivalent Unit
•  1 FEU equals about 25 metric tons (27 st)or 72 cubic meters (2,542 cu ft).

Since "day one,"  Alaska Steamship had been providing passenger service, break-bulk and deck cargo space to Alaska. Oversize loading went by barge, or the long way around on the Alcan Highway.

But Alaska Steamship got out of the passenger business in 1954. Unable to adapt to the new containerization technologies, Alaska Steamship company shuttered in 1971, creating a vast gap in needed freight services.

The gap was filled in September 1975, when TOTE initiated roll-on / roll off  ( RO-RO) service to Alaska.   The 790 foot Great Land departed Seattle for Anchorage, with 380 40-foot trailers and 126 motor vehicles.

She was soon joined by her sister, the Westward Venture.

Great Land service continued until 2003, when  TOTE built two new vessels in the Orca Class —  the Midnight Sun and North Star. Great Land was mothballed, and eventually went under the cutter's torch. The Westward Venture continued on this route until 2005.



Today, TOTE operates from the Port of Tacoma, and is one of many marine assets controlled by Saltchuk Resources. Thankfully, Saltchuk is "locally" owned, not an extension of some shadowy international conglomerate. Indeed "Saltchuk" from Chinook, means "saltwater."

More Good News! 

Not only is Saltchuk a local family owned entity, but American citizens in San Diego, California built the Midnight Sun and North Star! Construction on the first Orca-class ship, the m/v Midnight Sun, began in June 2001 and its christening was August 3, 2002, and delivered in April 2003. The m/v North Star, was christened on June 14, 2003, and delivered in August 2003.

But Wait! There's More Good News!

TOTE is converting its two Orca-class vessels to operate on Liquified Natural Gas (LNG.)

The process of conversion of North Star and Midnight Sun will begin in the fall of 2015.

Initially, the two ships will be fueled from an LNG bunker barge, while a shore-based bunkering facility is planned for construction in the Port of Tacoma.

So much more good news!  Five weeks ago, on April 18, TOTE launched the worlds first LNG container ship, christened Isla Bella, in a spectacular nighttime launch, complete with fireworks! 

Here is an interesting time lapse video detailing  the construction of the LNG tanks.

In December, the United Arab Shipping Company (USAC) launched the MV Sajir, 15,000 TEU container ship, advertised as "LNG ready."

"LNG ready" which means the vessel has been built with double wall gas piping, a dual-fuel main engine and the space needed for later retrofitting of tanks and regasification equipment so the ship can burn LNG in addition to heavy fuel oil or marine gas oil.

It will require down time to switch from bunker fuel to LNG when the time comes, while TOTE's Isla Bella is actually running on LNG.

Mrs. Sophie Sacco-wife of Michael Sacco, president of the Seafarers International Union of North America, AFL-CIO-christened the Isla Bella with the traditional champagne bottle break over the ship's hull.

Undoubtedly you've seen hilarious visuals of champagne bottles bouncing off the bow of  a vessel or nose of aircraft. Finally, a high tech solution to this embarrassing event. Look carefully at this photo. A bracket with teeth has been welded to the Isla Bella, insuring a decisive bottle smash!

Isla Bella ("Beautiful Island") will be joined by her sister, now under construction at NASSCO, Perla Del Caribe ("Pearl of the Caribbean") in 2016. The 3,100 TEU vessels will operate on the Jacksonville Florida - San Juan Puerto Rico service.

If you spend too much time watching TV, you may have seen this commercial featuring the new TOTE container ship. It is part of the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) "Think About it" campaign.  The claim is that by switching to LNG to power the vessel, atmospheric emissions will be reduced by 70%.

While that is admirable, informed audiences are rightfully skeptical of propaganda feeding us selected feel good facts about what ever industry cabal they represent.

Another example is presented by former beauty queen, former soap opera star, and former Fox reporter, Brooke Alexander, spokesperson for American Petroleum Institute (API), wherein she "Connects the Dots" promoting fracking.

And for sure, anyone who has been associated with Roger Ailes is immediately suspect!

Monday, May 18, 2015

May 18, 1980 - Mt St Helens: The BN Connection

My how time flies!  Today marks the 35th anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption.  Here is how I originally presented the story  ...

Portland Oregon, May 18, 1980.
After months of teasing us, Mt St Helens finally blew her top off. Literally. One square mile of it!

The mountain is about 60 miles north and slightly to the east of the Portland - Vancouver metroplex. You just had to find a hill with an unobstructed view to the north, to enjoy this, the most violent of natures land re-distribution schemes. These folks were watching from the Pittock Mansion located on a hill overlooking Portland.

Prevailing weather patterns took the ash plume into Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho and beyond. Residents of Ritzville in eastern Washington explore the moon like dust. On a positive note, the ash-fall from Mt St Helens is often credited for the richness of the soils in the Palouse Region, famous for it's wheat, pea, and lentil crops.

The Internet is rich with the history and background leading up to the Big Blast, which I will not reiterate. This site is one of the better ones; you will be challenged to look up more than a half dozen references!

While most of the ash fall was to the east, changes in weather patterns brought ash south into the Vancouver - Portland area, on several occasions. And of course like everyone else, I had to collect a jar or two.

This is my last jar. When you look at it carefully, you have to marvel at the mechanism that creates millions of tons of this stuff, and blasts it into the atmosphere. I could only shake my head at anxious passengers who are still being disrupted by the eruption in Iceland.

They grouse about not being able to fly. While it looks pretty and feels soft to the touch, it is composed of silicates, and can damage human lungs and internal combustion engines with equal aplomb. Does this read like something you would be comfortable inhaling?

This jar had been sealed since I collected the ash in 1980. When I took the lid off last night, a strong odor of hydrogen sulfide gas was emitted!

This was early in the morning of May 25, 1980. Looks like snow falling, but that is volcanic ash! Taken from my living room window in North Portland, facing west, the volcano would be to the right ... 60 miles north!

This is what we woke up to on May 25th. Deceptively beautiful. These are the roofs of two other buildings in the small complex where I bivouacked. Several of us spent the day helping the landlord get this off the roofs, before rain turned it into dangerously heavy mud, which would threaten the structures.

Trying to hose the roof down resulted in creating heavy mud, which clogged the drains. It had to be shoveled and swept.

Check the  Mod Squad '80's look! I look like a ding-dong. I cleverly inscribed "Mt. Ash" on my truck. This despite constant warnings by authorities NOT to drive in or breath the ash, which had the composition of grinding grit! That "Mt. Ash" engraving were clearly visible on my vehicle for many years to come.

And, of course I just had to see what was going on in the neighborhood. Notice the lack of motor vehicles, which meant only a few of us were out trying to clog air filters!

And automotive air filters flew off the shelves of parts stores! This photo shows folks navigating in downtown Portland. Not only automotive air filters, but any kind of filter was hard to locate, and commanded a considerable "markup" when located.

The ash was deceptively beautiful. One could hardly avoid touching it. Since it is silica based, cottage industries sprung up with creative people making coffee mugs, icons, and of course, ash trays, out of the stuff.

A report issued by the US Geological Survey gives this assessment of potential disruption to railroad operations, should there be renewed activity on Mt St Helens:

  • Rail transportation is less vulnerable to volcanic ash than roads and highways,with disruptions mainly caused by poor visibility and breathing problems for train crews. Moving trains will also stir up fallen ash, which can affect residents living near railway tracks and urban areas through which railway lines run.
  • Fine ash can enter engines and cause increased wear on all moving parts. Light rain on fallen ash may also lead to short-circuiting of signal equipment.
  • Temporary shutdown disruptions caused by poor visibility and breathing problems for train crews, and potential damage to engines and other equipment, can result in the temporary shutdown of rail services or the delay in normal schedules. For example, ten trains in western Montana (USA) were shut down for nearly a day because of 1-2 mm of ash fall resulting from the eruption of Mount St. Helens volcano, 625 km to the west. Rail services were back to normal operations within 3 days.

Mt St Helens today with a Lenticular cloud cap. Elevation 8,363 ft after loosing 1,314 feet during eruption.

Oh! You remember I mentioned the top one square mile of Mt St Helens blew away? Well that land was owned by Burlington Northern (read Northern Pacific!)  Dating back to the days of railroad land grants, the Northern Pacific railroad owned the land covering a large segment of the top of the mountain.

In an effort to protect themselves from accident or injury liability, what with scientists and TV crews landing helicopters on the summit almost daily, Burlington Northern Railroad Loss Prevention asked the US Forest Service (USFS) to declare their property on the summit as closed.

But television crews who had landed on the summit days before were immune to prosecution. They had landed on property just outside the closure area enforced by the USFS.

And it all became a mute point following the eruption; the entire area was scattered over five states!

The joke around town was, "Did the Burlington Northern Railway file an Environmental Impact Statement prior to setting off the explosion, as required by the EPA?" 

The US Forest Service and Burlington Northern swapped parcels of land on August 26, 1982. This was done to facilitate the Mount St Helen's National Volcanic Monument.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Armed Forces Day or Memorial Day?

Armed Forces Day or Memorial Day? It's far too easy to fail to understand the difference between the two holidays. To demonstrate my point, ask a friend or associate if they know the difference between the two.

Today is Armed Forces Day, May 16th, whilst Memorial Day is a week away, May 25th.

•  Armed Forces Day was created in August 1949, to replace separate Army, Navy, Marine Corps,  and US Air Force Days. The single day designation also included the US Coast Guard, oldest branch of military; 1790, as a celebration of  the unification of the Armed Forces under the Department of Defense (DoD).

•  Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971, to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

So one holiday celebrates the armed services, whilst the other celebrates the lives lost.

Oops! Almost the third significant holiday involving our military - Veterans Day!

While Memorial Day is set aside to honor military personnel who died in the service of their country,

•  Veterans Day is set aside to thank living veterans for their service and to acknowledge that their contribution to our national security is appreciated.

This year, we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11th.

Conversation Starter

Have you noticed the almost automatic response "Thank you for your service" when interviewing  or addressing veterans? Does it seem sometimes to be so automatic as to become "shallow?"

If you are a vet, I'd be interested to know how you react when someone "thanks you for your service."

When I got out of the service, any mention of of my service was generally avoided, as it usually resulted in an argument about the politics of SEA…

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Face to Face with Noble Discoverer

The Drillship Noble Discoverer did a disappearing act last weekend, then showed up on MarineTraffic, displaying a loitering holding pattern southwest of Cape Flattery. I'm guessing the delay was caused by the furor down in Seattle over allowing Shell to park their motley collection at Terminal 5.

When I awoke Tuesday a.m., she was approaching Port Angeles, taking on a Puget Sound Pilot. I had two choices; shoot her from Point Wilson here in Port Townsend, or run over to Marrowstone Island, where I could obtain an elevated view as she rounded Marrowstone Point.

I elected  Marrowstone Island, and set up my location inside Fort Flagler State Park, at the Thomas Wansboro Battery. By 10:30 a.m. I began "the wait" with my trusty Key Grip, GingerSnap.

Finally, at 1 p.m. PDT (8 a.m. GMT) the infamous Drillship Noble Discoverer hove into sight [video] abeam the Marrowstone Point Light.

It was anticlimactic seeing this vessel. I've been following her since the 2012 debacle Royal Dutch Shell showed the world. Nothing mythical about it; simply an oil derrick mounted on what was once a log carrier built nearly a half century ago (1966),  hauling between Puget Sound and Japan.

I must have been a half mile from this Armada, atop a Marrowstone bluff, and I felt STRONG thumping vibrations through my legs. One can only image how these powerful vessels sound under water.

Discoverer completed her trip from Singapore, coming along side in Everett at dinner time, May 5, 2015.

My take-away from this encounter is this: There is no way a fleet of 24 vessels can invade the Chukchi Sea, without changing life there forever.

Shell has no business rolling the dice on the environment like BP did in the Gulf. BP ruined the Gulf, and now, if you can believe it, BP wants their mitigation money back?

Conversation Starter

The Seattle PI reports the stand off between the Port Commissioners, three of whom accepted campaign funds from Saltchuk, who own Foss, and the outraged citizens of Seattle, whose battle cry is "ShellNo!"

With empirical evidence suggesting a down-turn in oil and gas production, why do you think Shell is so hell-bent on screwing around in the Arctic?

•  Oil Companies Are Pausing Plans to Drill the Arctic
•  Rig Count Down
•  Chevron Drops Arctic Oil Drilling Plan