Tuesday, August 19, 2008

(written August 4 2008) Well I have been here on the ship for 4 days now, and it is VERY different than I imagined. The crew on a cruise ship works hard. When I was going through the process in this I can only relate it to watching an episode of COPS and then thinking when you get the job its all high speed pursuits and kicking in doors. Well the stressful and tedious side of paperwork never came into play during the recruiting process.

On average I work 10-14 hour days. From the early morning, my responsibilities are over the assistance of getting the ship docked into the port, securing and supervising the gangway, discipline of the members of the entire staff, multiple meetings on the bridge with the navigational staff (called coffee time), response to any accident, theft or disturbance; and on top of all of that, I am in an intensive training program to qualify with all of my maritime, Holland America and security certifications. The ship is really like a city. For those of you who have sailed as passengers, you most likely never got a chance to see what is happening behind the scenes.

When I first signed on the ship, I was greeted by Ron (current Security Officer), who is a retired Chief of Police from a suburb of Seattle. He introduced himself and got me acquiantined with the layout of the ship. He informed me that he and I would be training together for the next 2 weeks. At the time, I had no idea how intense these next 2 weeks would be. I then went to the Human Resource office for a short orientation and room assignment. I was issued an ID card and given a room key and a master key to the entire ship. Before I could perform any functions of the Security Officer, I had to complete a number of training (still not complete). The ship has a training facility that offers computer training classes online via the intranet computers. There are meeting rooms and everything else you can think of that would be in a normal little city. I headed down to the tailor shop down below, where I was measured for my uniforms. They said it would take a week or so for the first one (still don’t have it), but then I saw why. Every uniform is hand made from scratch (yes even the formal jackets). They took my measurements, and then measured out raw material, cut it and said it would be hand stitched based on my measurements. I thought they already had uniforms and then made adjustments, but no, this is from thread and fabric! My first 2 days I worked almost 13 hours, and more than half of that was training in classes and computer directive sessions. I do have to say that the training is really good, and I hope to take some of the ideas back to the shore side security operations in San Diego and present them to Bryce.

Something I noticed immediately that I hadn’t really considered before was the pride that the crew members take in their work, and the respect that is shown to others in higher rank. To me, I have been a police officer and security, etc. but the title was never really a big deal. Here on the ship title is everything. Many of these people will work the next 20 years trying to get “officer” status, whereas on the shore, you take a b.s. test and the guard card comes and you’re an officer. Most of the officers on board the ship have college requirements, and it is very similar to the military with enlisted and officers. Most of the crew is from Philippines, India or Indonesia. They tell me that working on the ship for the wage most Americans would make more on welfare, makes them able to live in semi-luxury once they get back home to their respective country. I have never witnessed first hand the level of work ethic that these people have and their pride in what they do. The diversity on board the ship is very humbling, and I have already learned so much about other cultures that you really can’t pick up with Americanized foreign nationals. Not to say any less about Americans, but I have been impressed by these guys and gals on the ship. One of the funny things is the Phillipinos don’t pronounce the letter “F” when they translate to English. When you’re and officer walking around they all address you as ‘chief’, but it comes out as, “Cheap”. I have heard it about 500 times in the past 4 days and still chuckle when someone says, “hello cheap”.

The weather so far in Alaska has averaged 50-60 degrees and we have had drizzle/rain except for yesterday in Glacier Bay. It was beautiful and got up to 70 degrees. I will post some pictures of the glaciers and yesterdays travels in this blog.

In regard to port security, there is none in Alaska. On the bridge the other day we were talking about different security measures (we have a full Coast Guard inspection on the 13th – lucky me to arrive just in time) and the fact San Diego runs close to 50 guards for a single ship. In Skagway, AK there were 4 ships in port (San Diego this would be about 250 guards) and this was done with 1 port agent and 3 security guards. The linesmen and longshoreman situation doesn’t change since the west coast union expands here. I took a few pictures in my phone, but need a signal to send to my email for download. I will post a security in port blog in the future.

Well that is it for now, I have to go and sit in yet another meeting. The schedule here has me up and at ‘em around 5am on some days, breaks throughout the day and then wrapping up around 11pm. Have you ever sat and thought, “Why did I sign up for this?” Well I have had that thought a few times recently. For the most part I am doing well, but I tell you, it is very overwhelming. I think once I get the entire computer and paperwork issues settled, things will be much smoother. Until next time; regards.

I will post random pictures on multiple pages for your viewing. If I can get my stupid laptop to format correctly, I will try to get each one labeled.

Security Breach at Vancouver Airport

If you recall back to my first experience at the Vancouver airport, you’ll recall that I violated about every security checkpoint in the mission of recovering my cell phone. When I got back to the airport the following day, and was heading toward the terminal to fly to Juneau, I took photos (attached) of all of the doors I entered to get back to where the plane was. The photo of the tarmack is the area I was out walking on. Not really a new story, but interesting to think what would have happened if I would have done this in the US, especially Lindberg Field or LAX. I think I may still be in secondary inspection.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

I am ok!!!

Hello everyone!! Well, Alaska isn't very cell phone/internet friendly. I have been keeping up on posts, but unfortunately the ship does not have USB ability to upload pictures online. Therefore, I need to post blogs and then when I can get off the ship, go to an internet cafe and upload. Unfortunately, the posts will all be every week or so, but I will try my best to keep up.

Things have been really busy, and I work very long hours. I will try to have pictures and posts up for you on Wednesday or Thursday. Thanks for checking, and I miss all of you!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trip to Vancouver BC

This is my hotel, The 4 Points Sheraton. Very nice. Oh look at that, rain... never expected that. Is that a big old Bonzai tree?!?! Bonzai Danielson!!
Photo of the doctor's office for the maritime medical exam. Yep a clinic, but I dig the decor.
Downtown Vancouver - old church building (I think) - thought Judi would like this
Everything here is Asain influence - even the smoking area outside the hotel as seen here. Also, the whole city smells like Panda Palace Restaurant. Not a bad thing, but where is a hamburger already? 50% of the city's signs are written in Chinese (now I can figure out what my tattoo really says.. ha ha)

And now the blog..................

Well it has started, my first day away from San Diego and already full of excitement. The day started early with a flight from San Diego at 630am on Alaskan Airlines. I got to fly first class, and wow! I mean this was really exciting for me considering my airlines experiences are usually Southwest. The seat was awesome, a big leather reclining seat, and personal attention I have never gotten on Southwest. It's kinda cool when the flight attendants address you by name. Once we took off, we got breakfast; a warm cinnabon cinnamon roll with melted icing running down the sides. On the side there was a raspberry yogurt, and the thing that tripped me out the most was they gave me real utencils! I had a real knife on an airplane! I know most of you are thinking this is a waste of your time to read, but I was stoked on the whole experience. While 90% of the plane is eating peanuts and Cokes out of plastic cups, I was having a great breakfast with actual ceramic plates and real utencils. The flight was smooth and uneventful. Very relaxing! Sergio told me he hates flying coach now and it is hard to fly if he cannot fly first class; now I understand.

The first plane dropped me off in Portland for a plane switch to a puddle jumper to Vancouver. This plane sucked. Twin prop loud, hot and muggy, and I got stuck next to a 6'4, 280 lb guy, and I was stuck with the window seat. Getting to the plane was outside and of course it was raining. San Diego yesterday was 82 and sunny all day long, here:50 and rain. Anyhow, when I got out of the terminal I realized I forgot my jacket in the back seat of the BMW when Judi dropped me off this morning. Looks like I will be running into port for a jacket in Juneau. The plane was turbulent and tight, and once it landed in Vancouver I was one of the first people off. I got all the way to the Customs area (those of you who have flown in Vancouver know how far this is) I realized I left my cell phone on the plane. I turned around and ran about 1/4 mile through halls and doors that say do not enter, and ended up getting lost in the terminal. Now let me Family Guy this for a second. Have you seen the episodes of South Park or Family Guy where they bag on the Canadians for security lax procedures? Ha ha, yep.... I never got stopped once. In fact, I exited a door once I was lost inside a security zone and ended up locked out on the tarmack!!! I tried to flag 2 people down to figure out where my plane was and they wanted nothing to do with me. I thought this was crazy, USA is so Nazi about the airport security that you can't even pass gass without going to secondary and here I ran through 5 security blocks and was never approached. Finally I ended up seeing my plane and was walking out on the tarmack where the guys direct the planes in!! One guy from Southwest Airlines even told me, "Hey move out of the way, a plane is coming in here". I finally saw my plane and went over and walked up the little stairs. I scared the pilot and co-pilot and they asked me who I was and my intentions for getting on the plane. I said I forgot my cell phone and they quickly helped me find it. The captain asked how I got all the way to the plane on the tarmack without escort and I told him the story. He thought it was also disturbing. Anyhow, I made it to Customs and pleasantly they are pretty squared away. Here obviously it is reverse of what I am used to. Not to say we don't have good security at Port of San Diego, but the Port security here is like the airport. I guess Canada does have one thing straight.... maritime rules over aviation!! ha ha just kidding!

The City of Vancouver is odd in nature. For those from San Diego it seems to be Mira Mesa meets Hillcrest or if you are a Los Angelino, San Gabriel meets West Hollywood. The bottom line... many bad drivers and a freak show they should charge you to watch!! The taxis are the same as anywhere else in the world. As soon as you get in they guy calls you his friend, and the reminants of curry aroma burns your nostrils. I guess this is a preparation for working at sea. The people here are very friendly, but I think the city itself is pretty basic as far as a big city. I was expecting alot since I had heard it was so pretty and all, but those who think this is a pretty city or nice place to live most likely didn't grow up with me in San Diego. Bottom line, its okay to work here, but living is not for me. By the afternoon I arrived at the Maritime Medical appointment. The doctor was cool,but the clinic itself and the others around it were a little scary. Trust me, this makes Kaiser Zion or even Grossmont Hospital look like Taj Mahal. So anyhow, after this sight I definitely won't be voting democrat, and perhaps Mr.Obama should get his next medical treatment under socialized medicene before he platforms that as his solution.

On a funny side note, I asked where I could find a good Mexican Restaurant to eat and was told there is only 1 good place; Taco Time. Are you kidding me?!?! I spoke with a few of the natives here who have never had Mexican food!

Well, I am off. Tommorow I sign on the ship in Juneau. Sorry this was dull but this was my day. I would try to post a picture, but why do you want to see pictures of gray gloom? I will post next from the ship, most likely on Thursday or Friday!!

My ports of call for this week:

Wed 7/30 - Juneau, AK
Thu 7/31 - Skagway, AK
Fri 8/1/08- Glacier Bay
Sat 8/2/08 - College Fjord
Sun 8/3 - Anchorage, AK

Have a great day!!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Basic Training - Merchant Mariner

In preparation for heading out to sea, there was some training requirements that really opened my eyes to what I was getting into. The US Coast Card issues Merchant Marine certifications known as a Z-Card or Merchant Mariner Identification Card. This is a certification and identification that allows you to work at sea and use identification when visiting foreign/domestic ports. Holland America has foreign flagged ships (Holland), and therefore the Z-Card isn't required, but the Seaman's Book or Monsterbook is. Requirements are similiar, which brought me to the STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) class, sorta like POST here in California to try and relate it to something. The school was based out of Fremont Maritime in Seattle, WA. The photo to the left is the company logo, with the title "India Tango", which out at sea means, "I'm on fire". For more info on the class and school itself you can check out http://www.sea-safety.com/

The STCW Training was a great class. Outside of learning about maritime first aid (which is actually a little different than mainland - no 9-1-1 at sea), ocean survival and a bunch of other simulated training; we had 16 hours of firefighting. Ok, here I must conceide (especially to my Grandpa Wheeler - retired SDFD)..... firefighters have it much tougher than cops. Yeah I know when I was out there in patrol I jumped on the firefighter coffee drinking, work-out pimpin, 5 mile jogging, glory gettin, GQ lookin firefighters! But trust me, You grab a 2" water line and enter a structure with a dual level engine fire burning at 1500 degrees, with smoke so thick you can't see your glove in front of your face, regulate your breathing through a 25 minute tank, control the pressure of the fire hose while keeping the fire under control (aka- not causing the fire to spread or excess steam cook your dome like a goose) in that uncomfortable and hot fire gear. I was only there for 2 days and fought 2 controlled fires - MY PROPS TO THE FIRE DEPARTMENT! And apologies for prior kidding around saying us cops had a tougher job - FD deserves the Lazy Boy recliners in front of the big screen with the sexiest woman around flocking to them... well I guess that's going a little too far, but oh well.

During the class, we were fortunate to have a guy named Thomas Bliss from the US Coast Guard (professional photographer) in the class with us. Our class was well documented with high quality photos thanks to Tom (as seen below). Enjoy the pictures and if you for some reason are in need of STCW Training or certifications, I highly recommend Fremont Maritime.

The following are pictures from the water and personal survival portion of the class (Photos By Thomas Bliss © 2008 all rights reserved):

These photos are of the firefighter training (Photos By Thomas Bliss © 2008 all rights reserved):

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Going to Sea

Hello everyone! I have created this blog at the request of many of you wanting to keep in touch with me while at sea in my new position as Chief Security Officer with Holland America. I have been assigned the Maasdam (pictured left) in the months of Nov/Dec to sail out of Ft. Lauderdale throughout the Southern Caribbean and May/June out of Boston, MA throughout the New England/Canadian tour.

My first mission is actually going to be on the Volendam (pictured right) sailing Alaska, both inner and outer passge (rotating). I will be training for the first 2 weeks (from July 29-August 10), then I will be taking over as the Chief of the Onboard Security Department. I will be returning September 24th to San Diego, and continuing to work at the Cruise Ship Terminal as the shoreside Assistant Director of Security.

For those of you who weren't sure what I have been up to since moving back from Washington DC in 2007, I have been a Security Manager, now Assistant Director of Security, at the Cruise Ship Terminal at the San Diego Embarcadero (Port of San Diego - pictured left). I have actually had a great time and will be returning to the position when not at sea until we find out where Judi's job takes us. I work for Bryce Forrester (Director of Security), who is a retired Deputy Chief of El Paso Police Department in Texas. We work well together, and I know this at sea job has added stress to our smooth running system, which he reminds me is a compliment :) I tell you, after my years of being a street cop I thought I had seen it all until I started working at the Cruise Ship Terminal. I swear, I need to write a daily journal and sell it to Fox Network and call it "Life at the Cruise Ship Terminal - The not so loveboat". Many of you have heard some of the stories ranging from the guards working (like The Office meets Reno 911) to the cruise staff (mini United Nations) to the passengers (can feel like being a kid at Disneyland or being the only guy wearing a Red Sox jersey in Yankee Stadium) all in the same 12 hour workday. Let me document this - I own the rights to this sitcom!!
Anyhow, the blog is set up, and I will try my best to keep up on it from the high seas. I will have a laptop and digital camera, but those of you who know me, know I suck at taking pictures. Good news for everyone - Holland America does have a family discount plan, and cruising is a blast. The big challenge will be, Can I avoid the Lido food buffet? I venture to guess I will either lose or gain 20 pounds by the end of the year. Place your bets, ha ha.