It's time I did a post about the latter days of winter. At the most miserable time of a long dragged out winter, Me and d'missus joined the flock and flew south for a week of bliss and summer fun in the sun. As luck would have it we ran into a good week of weather and it was lovely.
Having done Mexico some years ago, and Puerto Rico last fall we decided to go to the Island of Cuba! This place has always been kind of mysterious to me, conjouring visions of Grandfather's tales of the voyages he and shipmates had taken years before, when they loaded up their schooners with dried salt cod pickled the way the 'West Indie Fish' was made. Ah, the melodic strains of music filling the cobblestoned streets of Old Havana, the drinking grounds of Papa Hemmingway, the sounds of the surf as the North Atlantic, so cruel and cold further north, pounds the shoreline in a neverending roar.
Yes, Cuba, the land of Castro, land of Che and the Revolution that thumbed its ass at the American War Machine and the Chambers of Greed. The land of poverty and joy, of happy people getting on with their lives in a beautiful part of the earth. Well to make a long story just a bit shorter, I will resist the temptation to go on and on about the history and the things to see and do. Instead I'll post a few pics taken while there.
You may have read or heard of Hemmingway's story "The Old Man and the Sea". Well, this is a photo of the very man that inspired the tale. It hangs on the wall with many interesting shots of Papa and Company. This is in the lobby of the Hotel where Hemmingway lived for several years...and not far from the Floridita Club, the Cradle of the Daiquiri.
The 'Fast Delivery' truck is the one the revolutionaries used to storm the Government. If you look closely you will notice the many bullet holes in the panel walls. The odd looking items to the right are two homemade tanks that Castro had built. Both were made by welding steel protection onto farm equipment. Luckily for them the tanks were not needed and so were never used in defense.
We took loads more pics while on the island but I can show all them to you at some other time...maybe...if you want. Let me know!
Chapter Five – …and Ticking
Summer became the autumn., as summers always do. The winds would rise and the temperatures dropped. The mornings were a series of puddles frozen over with an ever-increasing regularity, each day their ice a little thicker. Little Cocoa was now hauling himself up to his feet using the coffee table as leverage, and becoming more mobile with each day. Myra loved to watch as he wobbled back and forth on his round little feet, then would fall on his round little arse. “Whoopsie!” Myra would laugh, then help him back up to his feet to begin the process all over again.
Today is an exciting day in the Pelley house. Little Aurora Borealis Pelley is turning one year old today! The last orbit around the sun saw many developments in Cocoa’s physical and mental facilities…and, he’s learned a trick.
“Ches, Ches! Ask him how old he is!” Myra squealed, “Watch what he does when you ask him”. Ches would then lean in and say “Cocoa, how old are YOU today?!”
“Wun!” Cocoa would squeak holding his index finger up in the air like a miniature flagpole. “Wun! Wun! Wun!!” Then child and parents would fall over one another in peals of laughter! “Who’s birthday is it today Cocoa?! Is it Cocoa’s birthday today?!” Again the family collapsed in a pile of silly giggles, snarks and laughter. The moment hung on in the glory of the present. Then didn’t.
“Oh Chesley darling, there’s the door…would you get it for me honey… It’s probably Mom and Dad”. Ches went to the front hallway and opened up the inside and then the outside storm door. A blustery gust of frigid air squirted in around his feet and along the floor. Triple Eff’s nose curled up all crinkly as he flashed his butt to the porch, then disappeared into the house, the chill air an apparent insult to his catness. The doorway light illuminated the faces of Myra’s mother and father, both stamping their feet and slapping their arms under their armpits, grumbling about the state of the current weather.
Stan and Susan Avery stepped into the porch quickly. “Man, it’s cooling down fast out there today. You can feel Old Man Winter in the wind” Stan said as he made his way to the kitchen, kicking his boots off on the stairway as he stepped up into the warmth. “It’s cold enough to cut ya for sure!”. Susan added, “Ohhhh…I’m not ready for winter yet…I hates it!”
Then, in a flash of Matriarchal remembrance, “Where’s my little man?! Where is he?!” She scurried over to Cocoa squealing like a banshee and swept him off of his feet and jet setting him into the sky as she skipped about the living room. Stan came into the room next, carrying a cold home brew in his hand. Obviously Myra’s old man wasn’t about to wait until after the ice cream to have a beer! “Susan! Put that little feller down for Gawd’s sake will ya? He’s never gonna learn to walk if you keeps picking him up like that. More likely he’ll be three or four years old before he figures out he can’t fly!” Putting him down in a final swoop that sent his socks flying Susan grinned good naturedly and said “Blow it out your arse Poppy, Gramma’s baby boy is growing up!” then added “and Gramma can’t pick him up and swing for long! Whew!”
Cocoa’s grandfather came over to him and said “Who’s birthday is it today Bud?!” Cocoa screeched “KoKoes Bird day ‘day!” All hands roaring! Then at last the inevitable, the long anticipated moment…the moment that had been rehearsed for weeks now…” How old are YOU today?!” his grandparents said in unison.
“WUN!!! KoKoes wun day!!!” little Aurora beamed.
Watching from the remote safety of the underside of the chesterfield, Triple Eff said “This is frigging ridiculous. These people are whack! Think I’ll lick my butt for a few minutes then stretch…and then maybe I’ll have a nap until the crackpots have left the building again”. Of course, what the Pellys and the Averys heard was nothing actually. Had they been listening, a haughty “Meow Purr” would have made them all believe that the cat was entirely contented…which, for the most part he was, at least as long as the crazy people fed him his three squares a day, plus treats, especially in his mind now that he was licking his butt again.
Outside the house a large black crow settled high in a tree. He watched the proceedings with interest, shifting from foot to foot on his perch. The winter wind pushed against his feathers, ruffling them awkwardly against the gale. One would not be entirely wrong to say he looked less than impressed. Still, his attention was unwavering. The wind howled in union with the wolves.
Chapter Six – Big, Black Birds
It has been said of crows that they are the smartest bird. If this is so, then this big bird surely was in the ranks of the smartest of crows. On most days anyway. Well, on days when he hadn’t lost anything. It is also been said of crows that there is seven drops of Devil’s blood in every one. They are full of mischief. They love shiny things, are favourably partial to eating dead things, especially dead things that rather conveniently arrange for themselves to be dead, squished onto paved or smooth rock surfaces. Undoubtedly a crow’s absolute favourite thing to gorge itself on are dead things that have shiny things attached to them!
“Yummy” is what a crow says to itself when it sees shiny road kill. If a crow were to have been an actor in the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’ that crow would certainly convince the Cowardly Lion to grow some balls, kill Dorothy and Toto, tear the stuffing out of the Scarecrow (perhaps constructing a nest in the process) and leave the Tin Man tits up in the middle of the road shining up to the high heavens. That’s what a crow would do. It’s no wonder then that a flock of the black buggers is known as a ‘Murder’ of crows. It’s also said that a crow mates for life. If you were to ask a crow the validity of this statement the answer might surprise you. Like people, most crows mate for sex. Life or no life.
But this crow, the crow outside the Pelley house is no ordinary crow. This crow is bigger and stronger than your common variety and this crow has a mission, other than eating dead things with shiny things. And now the crow is settling in to the treetop to observe the strangeness going on inside. “What is going on?!” he thinks, bewildered “ They look like they’re at a nut convention in there”. Then, remembering the importance of his purpose in that spot on that day, the big bird sighed and accepted his lot “I gotta keep a close watch on that kid, or there’s gonna be some real trouble!” His spirt passed over his eyes as momentarily he thought of troubles in the past…”That can’t be allowed to happen again”.
So, the crow sat and watched as Cocoa smeared cake on the whole world, watched as Cocoa dropped ice cream into the laps of the laughing adults, watched as Cocoa giggled and squealed his way through the birthday presents, the birthday hugs and kisses.
The crow perched and watched as Cocoa had four more delightful birthdays in that house as he sat shivering in the branches of the spruce tree. Four more years of preparing for the coming storm, observing the child’s skills as they flourished in the Pelly’s house of love, and reflecting on just how much they would all need that love.
There was so much crow shit accumulating on the branches that the crow had to watch where he was perched even while he watched his young ward grow. If you’ve ever watched a crow in a tree hopping around, that’s what they’re doing…avoiding stepping in shit.
“Soon my little buddy, you and I are going to have a little chat” the crow thought to himself “and then your whole fucking world is going to turn upside down…again.”
From various points inside the house as he made his rounds Triple Eff watched the big, black bird in the treetop. For his part, Triple Eff wanted only to catch and kill the bird. “ Soon Birdie Boy, I’m going to be picking my teeth with your waxy old tail feathers ‘cause soon, I’m going to be eating crow”. The cat turned and proceeded to lick between his claws feeling the needle points with his tongue, and feeling very good about himself indeed.
“Purrrrrrrrrrrr.” Said Triple Eff as he fell into his forty-fifth nap of the day, dreaming of smells and tastes yet to be enjoyed, not for once considering he might be out of his league on this one.
On the topic of ‘Shipbuilding’
Today I’m writing about a topic that is near and dear to my world, Shipbuilding. I am spurred on by a recent episode of PBS’s ‘Nova’ which I had on PVR (because I like to watch when I feel like watching). The episode I’m referring to was entitled “Ultimate Cruiseship” and dealt with the design, construction and delivery of the vessel ‘The Seven Seas Explorer’. It is probably the best ‘high level’ documentary I’ve seen regarding the process of ship delivery. It also provides a very good answer to a question I’ve heard many times over the years: “What do you do?”
Although this documentary chronicles the birth of a cruise ship, one of the vessels I have not actually worked on (unless of course one takes in account of commercial ferries), the processes and considerations are the same. The show dealt with the casting of the propellers, the problems of vibration, the complexities of sub assembly construction, the questions of Naval Architecture, weight issues, materials selection, and many other aspects of the work. Also discussed are the logistics of having the vessel’s modules built and launched in varied locations, then mated together to create the final hull, the total ship. Nearly every step along the process is covered in this documentary.
As I watched this I couldn’t help but think how well organized and executed the project was handled. It was obvious that the design was being directed and overseen by a team of Naval Architects and other professional shipbuilders that knew the importance of being ‘hands on’ throughout the whole project. Every step of the way the team was engaged and issues were dealt with then resolved.
I got to thinking about jobs I’ve worked on in the past. Some were well organized while others were complete chaos. The most important feature of all these jobs is that at the end of the day, a vessel was delivered. It is relatively rare for a ship, once started to not be completed, in some way (perhaps not to the original design, but completed none the less). So, why is it that some projects are successes while others are costly, problematic and not so much of a success? There is no one single answer but I can weigh in with some of the reasons I’ve experienced in my career.
I’m going to forgo the obvious point that there must be a Mission Statement established for the vessel, a good preliminary design to begin with, and deal instead with the options open to the Project Management and Design Teams. In recent years many vessels are being designed and constructed on contract in geographic areas that provide lower cost labour resources (for instance, India, China, Southeast Asia & Romania, to name only a few). This line of action has in many instances led to delivery of substandard construction with any number of issues regarding materials, design, welding, hardware and so on. That outcome has led to a school of thinking purporting that vessels built in these locations are substandard because of where they are built.
I argue that this is not necessarily the case. I agree that it is true many of the products coming from ‘low cost labour’ locations are not up to standards generally in use throughout most of the more developed world, but this is not a function of the location. It is a direct result of the failure of the project execution plan. These locations generally have access to very talented, energetic and dedicated resources, with loyalty to employers not seen in other places. What they lack is ‘Guidance and Oversight’. I contend that if one is to have a vessel designed and or built in low cost regions the onus is on the owner to ensure that there is from day one, a single person or team that is thoroughly familiar with all aspects of the vessel’s mission and design. This entity must also have authority to direct and halt work and have the full support of the owner. If those parameters are established, and adhered to, I believe a successful project is a likely outcome.
The makeup of this guidance and oversight team, commonly referred to as the ‘Client’s Representatives’ should not be someone that has not been directly involved with the determination of the design of the vessel. As an example, in some cases a local government has established a need for a rejuvenation of its ferry fleet (for instance) the wheels of bureaucracy [SW1] go to work and source a design house and shipyard with a cost that is acceptable. The deal is made, the government’s team agrees to have the work done with the builder, the money is put in place then…the bureaucrats go home. The very real danger here is that the taxpayer’s money is now in the control of a ‘hands off’ group of uninvolved bureaucrats and an eager builder following any number of their own agendas. It should come as no surprise when the vessel is over budget and the project is plagued with problems. It is absolutely necessary to have knowledgeable and experienced oversight at all offices and construction sites. There can be no substitute for technical, and practical expertise.
My discussion here is singling out the selection of low cost resources in specific geopolitical regions but this is not to be taken in isolation. The same dangers exist in the most technologically developed countries in the world. Without a strong leadership with actual knowledge of how to execute the task at hand, the project is less likely to be a success, and this is not a reflection on the quality of work being done by the workforce. It is a reflection, and a direct result of the lack of quality work being done by the Project Management.