Friday, December 30, 2011

The boat is closed!

Wednesday was a pretty stressful day on the river. Over the course of the day, the river climbed over 2 feet. Which is really unusual, and pretty hairy to deal with. The low water line (LWL or just called the cable), which is the cable that runs underwater and is attached to the boat, is attached to each shore and tied to each shore. The places where it's secured to land is way up at the top of the ramp. Then the cable runs through a channel on the side of the ramp, and is basically clamped to a ring down near the water line. In this pic, from awhile ago, you can see the channel on the left. The lwl runs down that.

When the river goes up and down, we have to move the clamp (we use a clevis, which looks like this) up and down. It affects how the boat lands, and also, you don't want to wait too long and have the clevis underwater. Cause it's cold and you don't want to deal with that.

Previously, I've never had to move a clevis up or down a ring more than twice in one day. And that was a pretty active river day. Well, on Wednesday, I moved the clevis up 4 rings. It sort of blew my mind. And then when I left, to anticipate the overnight rise, I raised it an additional 3 rings.

Thursday morning, I got a text for my coworker that said, "Thanks for trying, everything was underwater! And the lwl broke too." I moved the clevis up 7 rings in one day and it was still underwater?!!? Holy Crap! The river went up 5 feet overnight, and there was no end in sight! The lwl breaking is a super pain. As the river goes up, you let out more cable. The force of the water pushes the cable (and the boat) further downstream as I navigate across. The cable gets way too tight, and it's not uncommon for it to snap either just from the force of the river, or from a tree getting snagged and tugging on it. I let out more cable than I ever have before, but even that wasn't enough. It's crazy.

I spoke with the boss this morning, and he said he hasn't seen the river rise like this since the '96 flood. Which is terrifying. If you weren't in the Willamette Valley during the '96 flood, let me just tell you, it was massive. I walked through waist high water with my mom to check on my grandma's mobile home (the water was about an inch from the front door). Whole parts of Keizer were flooded. It was insane. So it's terrifying to hear this river to that one, even though the water shouldn't go up that high, nor should it last that long.

The ferry closed yesterday around mid-day, and the WL ferry closed yesterday around 4 pm. When the boats are closed, you can either take vacation time, or have shop days. Timing is pretty excellent for the river to close. I'm taking Sunday, which is New Years Day, as a holiday. On Monday, I'll use my Commissioner's day, a floating year end holiday.  It sounds like we may re-open the WL on Tuesday, so I'll head up there around 7 or 8 and help reopen the boat, all stuff I've never done. Evidently a lot of things are disconnected from the ferry when it's closed for high water. And I'll have a shop day on Wednesday. I think I can devise enough paperwork to do for the boss that'll keep me busy for several days.

No clue how long the BV will be closed. Hopefully not too long, but the 10 day river forecast shows the river at least above 15 feet the whole time. Welcome to winter on the river!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The First Winter Storm

I hope everyone had a great Christmas. I had a pretty nice one. My parents spoiled me rotten, which is always fun, I gave away 8 knitted things (ok, 2 things still aren't finished), and got to hang out with my cousin who lives in California and I don't get to see much. It was a nice long weekend.

Work yesterday, the day after Christmas, was busier than I expected. About 37 cars, but they were all tourists. It seemed like everyone was going over the river and through the woods. Traveling home from Christmas, going on a drive in the country, or revisiting old haunts. It was an interesting crowd. Today, on the other hand, with most Christmas visitors home, and most regulars taking the week off, I had 24 cars. That's an all time record low. However, it didn't feel that slow. I was training today, and will again tomorrow. You know how I was super stressed about training last time, cause I didn't know these guys and had to spend 3 days with them? No stress this time, I'm training someone I know! K was the toll taker on the WL ferry, so when I was training, she was often there. It was entertaining, catching up on gossip and hanging out. Also, because she's been on the ferries for a couple years, there's so much less I need to teach her, she's already familiar with it all.

In other news, we've got our first rainy winter storm heading this way. So far, this December has been the driest on record. The river looks as low as it does in the summer. It's bizarre. Earlier this month, we were up around 12 feet. Right now? 5.5 feet. But that's not going to last. This is the river level forecast for the next handful of days:

In a nutshell, the river is going up about a foot and a half tomorrow. And that's a pretty major jump for a single day. But that's nothing. On Thursday, the river is projected to jump from 7.5 to 15.5 feet! That's CRAZYNESS! Pure insanity. I'm so so so glad I'm not working on Thursday. I'd be totally stressed. I don't know if we'll end up closing the boat. The WL usually closes when the river hits 15.5 or so. Nobody really knows what the BV will do, what it can handle. Maybe it'll close before the WL. Maybe it won't close at all. If the BV does what the WL does, and the forecasts are correct, we'd be closed on Sunday. Which I don't totally mind. It's a holiday anyway, so I'd get paid either way. Though if I work the 1st, I get paid double-time, holiday pay.

I don't know what'll end up happening. We'll have to wait and see. Right now, it's pouring, and the wind is blowing everything around. I'm glad I'm not down there right now. It's sort of stressy feeling, in the dark, pouring rain, gusty wind, knowing the river is climbing, hearing the speeding river splash against the side of the boat.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lights Out!

Especially now, only a few days from the darkest day of the year, lighting on the boat is really important. So I was very surprised to drive up to the boat Sunday morning and discover that the streetlight was out. This was extra frustrating, since there are actually two streetlights on the east side of the river, but the first one was shot out about a month ago.

This is what the east side looks like at night with one streetlights (of course, I don't have a pic with both):

I know, bad pic. But that light in the distance is the streetlight. I actually think I took this pic in the middle of the river, so the light was even closer.

This is the east side with no lights:

The upper pinprick of light is a reflective sign (reflecting off the lighting on the boat) that says "Danger Underwater Cable." The lower pinprick is the reflection of the sign in the water.

It's CREEPY! And landings are sort of terrifying. I can't see where my slow down point is. And if I can't see that, I'm either slowing down way too early, then drifting, or too late, and slamming shore. I also don't like the fact that I can't really see enough to walk up to my car at the end of the night (or down to the boat in the morning). So I've taken to driving my car onto the ferry in the morning, parking on the other side, then ferrying my car back in the evening. Works, but annoying.

When I got to work on Sunday, there was a note in the cabin that just said, "light shot out 12/15 @ 20:48. I knew what that meant. It meant my coworker had taken the time to look through the CCTV footage and found the moment the light went out. And the footage is pretty damming. You can see the headlights approach the gate, then a bit of movement, then, a few minutes later, sudden darkness. And after that, bits of flashlights, possibly of someone walking down onto the boat. And quickly after that, the car turns around (you can make out that it's a truck) and leaves. So lame. How bored or drunk must you be to shoot streetlights?

The boss came onto the boat today. I made it very clear how totally uncomfortable I was with the lights out--both navigating and personal safety--and he completely got it. He's coming down tomorrow with a bucket truck, and will take a look to see how much damage the shots did. It'll probably be a week or so until the lights are repaired, depending on how hard it is to get parts.

As a temporary solution, I've started leaving a few lights on the boat overnight. The boss is fine with this, and said that because of the location of the lights, if the same asses want to shoot these out, they'll have to walk onto the boat. Because of that, we'll at least get footage of their faces that way. Not much consolation. I also mentioned the lights to several regulars who live on that side. It really does seem like everyone's related in that end of the county.

In other, totally unrelated news, remember that super killer awesome job with the city I interviewed for last month? I waited with baited breath....and then they pulled the recruitment. I suppose it's better than being rejected, since it's a job for my old boss, with my old coworkers (from about 5 years ago). It would have really stung to have been rejected. Still, I'm a bit bummed. No end of the ferry life for me, at least not for now. Sigh.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Did I tell you about the toilet?

A few weeks ago, I broke the toilet. Ok, honestly, I don't think I broke the toilet, but it broke, at 6:45 pm on a Wednesday, the end of my week. So I had to leave something in the toilet, with a mortifyingly embarrassing note for my coworker. So so so gross.

When I got to work the following Sunday, there was a porta-potty (known at public works as a blue room, since they're blue. These guys are soooo creative!) up the hill and inside a gated area. The toilet was still broken. I knew it wouldn't do anything to complain about having to use the blue room, even though it was super cold that week, with dense fog and periods of freezing fog. On the old boat, which was around for 55 years, the only toilet was a blue room. Most of the other operators, including my boss, worked the BV, and used the blue room for years. The main reason I didn't complain about it though, was that I knew I had the next week off, and that my boss was going to work my shifts.

See, my boss used to work the ferries full time. But now he's in the office, and his health and fitness aren't what they used to be. Having the power to fix things, he was going to make sure the toilet was fixed so he didn't have to climb the hill each time for four days.

And sure enough, I came to work today, and the toilet works! Hooray! There was a note inside the cabin from my coworker that said:
"The head is up and running agein. Just make shur not to put too much tp down it at wonce. The pipes clog up really easy latly. That's what [boss's name] said." (all spelling is his)

So honestly, I feel like I'm going to catch some of the blame here. Since we all know girls use waaaaaaaay more toilet paper than boys. I'd put money on it that the boss will come by tomorrow and mention the toilet paper usage. Especially with the "that's what [boss] said" part. The boss likes to have someone to blame. Whatever.

The best part, though, is this:

That's a hanger. And the hanger says, "new tool for unpluggin toilet. Do not throw out". I have sooooo many things to say about this. Wouldn't we need a whole pack of hangers? Are we supposed to rinse and reuse? Having never used a hanger to unclug a toilet, I'm assuming I pull it into a long rectangle and shove... Right? Hook part first? It's just so damn weird. Really weird. And quite hilarious.

Screw it all, I can pee in peace and not in a freezing cold smelly blue room. I can tolerate most anything.

Monday, December 5, 2011


I think I've talked about fog before. I've had foggy mornings, taken cool pictures of fog. But man, the fog this week, it's different. It's Fog. It's this fog that, when I'm walking up the hill to lock the gate and take a deep breath, I feel like I'm drowning, the air is so wet. Fog that freaks everyone out, that makes people turn around cause it creeps them out so much.

This morning, when I left for work, it was about 28 degrees. My car's warning light was telling me that I had a flat tire. I didn't, I checked them all, but the cold temperatures had lowered the pressure. I couldn't stop to fill them up, or I'd be late (I filled them all on the way home tonight, so don't worry). The roads were ok, but once I got over the south Salem hills on I-5, the fog came in. Nobody on the highway was going more than about 50. I almost missed my exit, I just couldn't see anything. And it was worse when I was on the farm roads. No visibility and no lights whatsoever.

When I pulled up to the ferry and stepped out, I almost slipped and fell over. The road was totally iced over. Freezing fog. Between my car, opening the gate, and stepping onto the ferry, I almost slipped 5 times. And the ramp to the ferry is a 14% grade, very steep. I had a hard time opening the gate, since the moisture had gotten into the parts and frozen the metal. It was nuts.

I don't mind fog when it's dark, for the most part. You can at least see headlights on the other side of the river, telling you there's a car to go get. During the day, the headlights aren't bright enough, or people don't have their lights on. The fog didn't clear until about 1pm. And until about 11, it was so utterly foggy that I had to park the boat in the middle of the river, the only way to see both sides. And that freaks me out. It's just an odd feeling, you feel the water and hear it more. The engines aren't on, you're just sitting there, drifting slightly in the middle of the river. And you have to be constantly vigilant, constantly looking back and forth, since it's still quite hard to see if there's a car there or not. My eyes are actually tired tonight, from peering into the fog so much. These two pictures are of the east and west banks, taken from the middle of the river. See how difficult it still is to see the cars?

The fog cleared around 1, but then around 4, it started to fog back up. I was reading my book at one point, and looked up 5 minutes later, and suddenly, just that quickly, I couldn't see anything at all. It felt like the fog had swooped in and just eaten up the whole world. I could barely see the trees 10 feet from the boat.

This evening, a mom and her maybe 11 year old daughter came across, then back a bit later. Their car was parked right in front of the cabin window. The daughter hung her head out the window for most of the trip, and when she pulled her head back inside the car, I could see, from 10+ feet away, the dew drops all over her hair. The fog was that thick. Truly, there just aren't words for how thick the fog was. The feeling of not getting enough air, of wanting to constantly cough out all the moisture from my lungs, was intense.

And tomorrow is supposed to be the same. Freezing fog, that builds up on everything, adding a thick layer of ice even to spiderwebs.

I will say, I think I'm starting to figure out how to stay warm. Today for example, I wore wool socks, silk long underwear bottoms, jeans, a cashmere turtleneck, and a thick polar fleece. And I was chilled a few times, but for the most part, I was fine. The cabin is heated, but it's drafty, and I'm still going outside all the time.

And while I'm posting interesting pictures, this guy comes across pretty often. This was the first time I tried to snap a picture of his cargo. He said he had 6 calves in the back. Poor things all squished in.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don't Be Late!

Let's compare, shall we? A normal morning versus this morning.

On a normal morning, I wake up at 5:26, shower, dress, make a pot of coffee, drink a cup and eat a piece of toast. Pack up the rest of the coffee, plus lunch, and head out for work at 6:18. I get to the boat around 6:42, and take my time opening things up. Usually I'm across the river and unlocking that gate by 6:55.

Now, this morning:
Wake up at 6:30. Think the clock said 5:30, and don't realize it was later until I've got one foot in the shower (literally). Start the litany of "oh my god, oh my f*ck! OH MY GOD!" as I throw on whatever clothes are on the floor. Leave the house at 6:37, having thrown every knitting project on the couch, my iPad, and the fixings for one cup of coffee into my backpack. Drive like a bat out of hell and show up at the boat at 6:54. Run down the ramp, unlocking the gate and boat, and call dispatch at 6:58, to tell them I'm here. Race across the river and unlock the other gate at 7:05. Then try to breathe.

So here I am, actually on time. I had one cup of coffee thanks to the ingenious insulated mug/French press my mom got me that I hadn't used until now. Then I discovered that the boss had forgotten to take the coffee maker with him, and had left coffee, too. And while folgers really isn't the best part of waking up, it's coffee and now I've probably had too much. I had breakfast fixings on the boat, but nothing for lunch. So my sweet mom, who called me while I was driving down here (cause she's got ESP like that), said she'd bring me lunch and coffee. Awwwww.

So now I just look like crap. You might not know this about me--or want to know--but I've got really REALLY oily skin. Makes my hair oily too. In fact, one time, when we were camping--and you're supposed to be grungy--my loving sister commented that my hair was so greasy you could fry chicken in it! (and Sarah, I don't hold it against you, I think it's one of the funniest things I've ever heard, plus it's true.) So here I sit on the boat, over caffeinated, nothing for lunch, but grimy and sleepy and oily. Loooooooovely. I'm so glad it's Friday!

Oh, and yesterday morning? I found a roach in the toilet on the boat. *shudders*

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Case of the Sundays

So Sundays are my Mondays. The start of my four day work week. And because I've just had three days (four days this time, because of the holiday) off, it's usually my most disjointed day on the boat. More things go awry on Sunday than most any other day of the week, at least for me. Nothing horrible, just enough to make me sigh and look forward to Monday (my Tuesday).

I left my coffee cup at home. Not my thermos, which would, in fact, be the end of the world as we know it (and no, I wouldn't feel fine, thank you very much REM). But my coffee mug, which I not only drink my coffee out of, but any further hot drinks I may want. And it was a very wet and cool day, a few mugs of tea would have gone a long way.

I dressed like an idiot. I didn't think about the fact that "steady rain" was forecasted for the afternoon. I wore a long sleeved shirt and a hoodie. And the hoodie basically acted like a sponge to every single raindrop it came across. Thus the desire for hot tea.

The water levels had been super high, then steadily falling, since I last worked. We look at a chart of the water levels at Salem, and since I'd last worked, on Tuesday, water levels went up 5 feet, and then back down 2. The water levels make a big difference in how I land. The currents pull the boat different in different currents. Plus, we adjust where the low water line (that's the underwater cable) is tied to land, and also how loose or tight that line is. It's like driving a totally different boat. I feel like I spent all day yesterday figuring out the landings, and I still, a day later, don't feel like I've nailed them consistently. That drives me crazy. I'm trying to figure out what other things to adjust, or what to adjust more or less, so I can get back to consistent landings.

The grossest part about yesterday? sorry, it's a link not a pic, I'm on the boat and having a hard time uploading. But you shouldn't need to log into facebook to see it. It's a picture of a COCKROACH. ON THE BOAT. So far, I've only found one inside the cabin, but tons outside. I'm sure it's the garbage they're attracted to. The garbage situation here is wonky. We have a very small can in the cabin, and when that's full, we tie up the bag and put it into a much larger bag inside one of the storage areas. Eventually, when that larger bag is full, we get the boss to take it back to the shops and throw it away. Problem is, we don't create all that much garbage, so a bag full of bags of garbage--lots of food waste--is sitting on the boat, a delicacy for roaches. It seriously grosses me out that they like to hang out on the outside of the windows. So when I look up to look for cars, or to watch the landing, I'M LOOKING THROUGH ROACHES. They're not the huge urban roaches, but still, they're roaches. I don't want them at all, cause they're sneaky little buggers and I'm terrified of them hitching a ride home with me, then I'll have roaches in my house!

Since I started writing this blog post this morning, I've gotten my landing mojo back on the east side, still working on the west. And the boss came down, took the garbage, and gave me a thing of nasty chemicals to spray everywhere. He gets it. Its gross. He said he's considering getting a dumpster up on shore, which would be so awesome. We could take the garbage out daily and have it off the boat altogether.

It wasn't an awful day yesterday, just a case of the Sundays.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Slow Week in Ferryland

At the end of every day, we mark the total number of vehicles on a list, which is then totaled and averaged at the end of the month. Patterns pretty quickly emerge: Monday and Tuesday are the slowest days of the week, no matter if it's summer or fall. Traffic starts to pick up Wednesday, with Friday and Saturday being the busiest. In the fall, when the Beavers or Ducks have home games, Saturday traffic can be hectic.

The other pattern that is emerging is simple: bad weather means fewer cars. This week, especially Tuesday, the weather was foul. Huge winds, gusting around 45 miles per hour. Massive rain. If I needed to get from point A to point B, I would opt for dry land rather than the ferry. It's not a problem with the boat, I'll get you across the river no matter the weather, I think it just scares people off.

That being said, on Monday and Tuesday both, I had 28 cars. 28. That's 2.3 cars per hour. It's dreadful. Numbers have been steadily falling since early October. October 1 was when the ferry used to close for the year (though someone else said it was the 31st. not sure), so some people still assume we're closed. Plus, the farmers aren't going back and forth as much. It used to be, I'd get a whole host of regulars, farming people, who'd live on one side and work on the other, on pumpkin farms, wheat fields, blueberry farms. Plus, their machinery would need to be moved back and forth.

Now, it's just a small handful of regulars plus the people who get lost following their GPS. Last week, I had 34 and 31 cars. I thought that was pretty bad. I think 28 is a record. Of course, it was a holiday week plus terrible weather, but still. I think this is the norm for now.

The regulars keep asking if the hours are going to change for the winter. I wish I knew. I've heard so many rumors, reduced hours, closed certain days of the week, closed for the winter, that I just don't know what to believe. I thin it's all under consideration. But bureaucracy moves at a snail's pace. If I made the decisions, I would most likely keep the ferry open 5 days a week, (wednesday through sunday), and reduce the hours to 8 or 10 hours a day. that way you could have one operator do the whole thing, the other operator would work in the shop or something. But honestly, while that sounds good for the boat, it wouldn't be good for me. Either I'd work an insanely long week with only two days off, those days being both weekdays, or even worse, I'd be in the shops. Which ohdeargod I don't want.

I'm nervous about what's going to happen. I don't want to be stuck in the shop for any longer than I have to. My boss likes me, and he likes having me around, and I know he does what he can to keep me happy. So I'm sure he's got a list somewhere of computer related things he can have me do. The toll taker on the WL has a list of stuff she and I can do when both ferries close for high water, things that keep us inside and as clean as possible. Otherwise, in cold wet February weather, we'd be out on the ferries, painting, greasing things, repairing parts. No fun.

This being Thanksgiving eve, I will say that I am more thankful than words can express that I have a job, especially such a well paid one. The other evening, I was sitting in the cabin, watching a movie on my ipad, knitting and drinking tea, and I just started chuckling at the absurdity. I get paid an awful lot of money to sit on a boat and do what I'd do at home for free.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Closed for the day

Last Wednesday, we closed the boat for the whole day. There were enough repairs that needed doing, plus we had welders coming down from Portland, and several projects that needed the boat to stop running anyway, so we did it all at once.

Tuesday evening, the boss told me to walk "all the way" up the hill to flip the sign. Throughout the area, on all the roads that lead to the ferry, there are road signs that tell the hours of the ferry, and at the bottom is a panel that says OPEN, unless it's unlocked and flipped down, in which case it says CLOSED. When the ferry closes for something major (like when the baloney snapped off), it can take several hours to get around to both sides of the ferry, up and down lots of back country roads to flip all 8 signs. There is one sign on either side of the ferry that's very nearby. The boss asked me to flip those Tuesday night. So at 7, when I close the boat, I walk up the hill like I'm going to lock the gate. Walk past the gate, and just keep going. I just looked on a map, and it was less than a quarter mile, but it was basically straight uphill. And I was pretty dumb, and didn't take a flashlight, though I think I vaguely recall the boss telling me to take one. Once I got past the single streetlight down by the boat, it was dark. Dark dark. Dark like when you go camping and you step outside the ring of light from the fire. I can vaguely see the sides of the road, and as I'm walking up the hill, I'm wondering if I'll even see the sign! I do catch sight of it, sort of, and veer towards it. And suddenly I stop. Is the sign in a ditch? It's off the pavement, is it rocks? Does it slope? In other words, am I going to fall flat on my face in pitch black darkness? I think it took me 30 seconds to go about 4 feet. And of course it was flat, no slope, gravel. Couldn't find the right key, cursed loudly, then FINALLY got it all to work and slowly trudged my way down to the boat. The sign on the other side of the river was easy, of course. I drove my car up to it as I left, jumped out, flipped it, and went home.

The boss said to show up at the regular time Wednesday morning, even though the work crews wouldn't be there until at least 8. Ummm, ok. So I showed up at 7 and sat around drinking my coffee for an hour. By that point, I realized I had a pretty nasty cold. I knew that I'd spend most of the day standing around. I don't know how to weld. I can't climb the tower. If they say, turn the right turnbuckle counterclockwise 3 times, I can do that, but I need things spelled out. The plan for me for the day was to "help out," then drive up to the WL ferry and operate that for a few hours, while the operator went to a county training class.

When the boss got to the boat, he told me that the WL operator took the class the day before, and I didn't need to go operate. I was relieved. I haven't operated the WL in months. I'm sure I'd figure it out, but it'd be busy, it navigates very differently, I had a cold, I didn't want to deal. So I didn't have to.

By 10:30, I feel like I'd stood around and inhaled everyone's cigarette smoke, and not done much else. Finally  I told the boss I was heading home. I felt bad. I didn't want everyone to think I was a wimp. I'm sure the guys did anyway. I told the boss that if it was a regular day, I'd have no problem sitting in the cabin and hauling a few cars. But the outside stuff, knowing a huge rain and windstorm was heading our way, yeah, not going to happen.

I'm so glad I left. I looked back on the cctv footage, and in heavy wind and rain, they were still working past 9:30 that night. I'm so glad I wimped out and left!

Monday, November 14, 2011

What a ferry captain brings to work

I bring a pretty full backpack to work every day, plus a large grocery sack full of food on my Mondays. I've seen the backpacks and coolers my coworkers bring, so I know I'm not along in packing the kitchen sink. Cause if you run out of something, it's not like you can take a break and run to the store. So I thought I'd go though my backpack and food bag and show you what I've got.

I have a backpack with about 20 different pockets and pouches. It's actually nice, everything is separated and pretty organized.

In the back pocket, I've got my wallet, iPad, a book, and sometimes a spare knitting project.

2nd pocket has all of my personal stuff. The bottom of that pocket is riddled with things like a pack of Kleenex, ibuprofen, supplies for that time of the month, a makeup bag with nail clippers, tweezers (the light is really good here for eyebrow grooming), dental floss, and band aids. Hand cream, a nail file. Another knitting project or two, and my warm weather gear, which usually consists of a hat, shawl, fingerless gloves and leather gloves. Oh, and hair clips, and a hairbrush. I'm probably forgetting a few things. That's the main pocket.

The front pocket is for the work funky stuff. I have a bandana and two pairs of work gloves there. I'll also shove my reflective vest in there at the end of the week. If stuff gets grimy in that pocket, it won't grime up and infect the rest of my stuff.

Theres a small pouch in the back for my iPod, cell charger, headphones and any other miscellaneous electronics.

The small pouch in front holds two important things: my coast guard license and my chap stick.

Attached to the two clips on front are hair ties, and I usually put my coffee thermos in the front outer pocket. Which, if the pocket isn't tightened down enough, the thermos can fall out if I lean too far forward. Which is how I learned that a thermos can float, and that it's worth a wet foot for good coffee.

Thats the backpack. I also carry a canvas grocery bag to work on Sunday, the start of my week, with my food for the week. While I pack lunches and breakfasts, the bottom of the bag is lined with drinks and snacks. So this week, I've got a dozen breakfast burritos, and risotto and soup for my lunches. The bag also has a few apples, packs of almonds, dried fruit, various chocolate things, tea, sugar for tea, those Starbucks instant coffee things, my water bottle, a bowl, coffee cup, silverware. Half and half for the tea and coffee, and one pop per work day. Food variety helps, and knowing I can reach into the bag and find a thing of popcorn to microwave one day and some chocolate covered pretzels the next is nice. Cause down here, where it's all monotonous, food monotony sucks even more.

I don't know what my coworkers eat. I've seen things of cup o noodle in the garbage, I can't imagine eating that stuff in general. Lol. And it certainly wouldn't keep me full or interested for 12 hours!

Sorry I didn't post for so long. I was training all last week as well, a nice guy, easy to get along with. Last week I also had the slowest day I've ever worked: 34 cars. That's less than 3 cars an hour. So far today, it seems like about the same. Ugh.

On Wednesday, the boat will be closed all day. There are a lot of things to repair, so we've got several crews and we're hoping to get it all done. I'm supposed to stay until the bitter end, which sounds crappy, since there's enough stuff to potentially keep us here longer than 12 hours. We'll see. Part of me wants to chicken out and call in sick.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When Darkness Falls

Daylight Savings started (ended? I can never keep track. Can we just say "happened"?) last night. It was super nice driving to work just before the sun was rising, it was so nice to be able to see where I was going on the back roads. In the summer, I really liked watching what was going on in the fields in the morning and evening, what had been plowed or harvested, how the wheat or corn was growing. For the past month, I was driving to work in the dark, and driving home in the dark. So it was a nice change this morning, to be able to see things.

However. The darkness this evening somehow seemed even darker. I had the boat lights turned on by 4:30, and it was dark dark by about 5. In addition to the darkness, or maybe because of it, traffic was incredibly slow. Between 4 and 7, when I closed, I got 4 cars. The darkness, while I sat there in the cabin, blasting music, knitting, playing on my ipad, felt like it was starting to take over. My imagination ran away with me and it just started feeling flat out creepy out there. It's funny, if I could turn the lights all off on the boat, I could see the stars, see the faint lights from Salem lighting up the outline of the trees. But with the lights on, the boat is lit up like a night game at a baseball field. Everything is bright within the circle of light, and pitch black outside it.


So last week, I got an Ipad. And I'm so so so SOOOOO happy I did. I can connect with my friends online, which makes me feel a lot less alone out there. I can check my email and type a full email a lot easier than on my phone. I've got games, access to the library to borrow ebooks, music, basically everything. I had no idea I'd be quite this happy with a little piece of technology, but holy cow, I really am.

Last week was also a training week, and so is this week. Last week, I spent a few days with M, a young guy, very sarcastic, he was decent to hang out with at least. This week, I get R. I'll be working with him all day tomorrow and a handful of hours on tuesday. R is older. From his photo, he appears to be in his late 40s or early 50s. Don't know anything about him. I'm sure he's a nice guy, but of course I'm apprehensive. It's a tiny space to be stuck with someone else in. Even if it was my mom or sister, I'd still go crazy being stuck in the cabin with them for 8 hours.

Today, something broke on the boat. It's hard to describe, but basically, on the concrete ramp heading down to the boat, a 1/2 inch steel strip got caught up in the boat, and was sticking up, making landings really weird, and could potentially either rip up the bottom of the boat or catch and tangle the low water line. I called the boss, basically to tell him what was going on and to say that he should hopefully have a plan so we could deal with this tomorrow morning. To my surprise, he drove down to the boat about an hour later. He had a grinder, and ground the steel to cut it off, getting rid of the problem. It was nice of him to come, and when I thanked him, expressing my surprise, he said he came down cause it was me. Which meant that, since I so rarely call him with problems--I don't call him to complain about the little stuff, and according to him, that's rare--he didn't mind coming down to help me when there was a slightly larger problem. I think the boss plays favorites and I'm his favorite, but I don't mind, at all. It makes my life easier.

No, I haven't heard from the city about the job. I did get an email from them, a "we're still working on it, you're not out of the running, we'll let you know" email. It's frustrating. I am going to put together a friendly email to send to the boss, to remind him of how much I want the job. We'll see.

This ended up a very random post. Maybe it's the wine. or the fat cat stretched across my arms right now. I think I need to get in bed soon.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A busy Halloween on the Boat

It was Halloween? What? When did that happen!? Actually, I did bring a costume pun to the ferry, but I put it on once and that was it. I had fairy wings and a captain's hat. I was a fairy captain! Get it?! I showed it to one of my favorite regulars, who cracked up.

Today was my first day of being a trainer. A few months ago, they hired two relief operators, guys who will work on the bridge or road crew, and can be called in as a sub on either ferry as needed. Each of the two guys have spent about a month working the WL ferry, and are doing a week on the BV. So around 8 this morning, M came on board. Really nice guy, spent 4 years in the Army, 15 months in Iraq as a heavy equipment operator, mostly working on building roads and removing land mines. He's a total smartass, has a foul mouth and a good sense of humor, so we got along pretty well. Even so, it was sort of exhausting suddenly having someone share the ferry with me all day. There's only one chair, there are hour long periods with no cars, the guy's been working on a ferry for a month and already knows what he's doing. So it was tiring. He spent a lot of the day playing Plants vs. Zombies on my (omg i freaking love it it's the best thing ever) brand new iPad. As nice as he was (and no mom, not date-able, he's too young for me), I was glad when it was time for him to go. I'll get him again on wednesday, then next week, I'll spend 3 days with R, another trainee.

So along with training, we had boat problems. The gate on the boat, the one that keeps cars from rolling into the river, stopped working. It wouldn't go up. For awhile, I could futz with it, and get it up eventually, but finally today, it just stopped. Boss knew about it, and spent at least an hour on the ferry this morning trying to diagnose where the problem was. We finally came to the conclusion that it was one of two problems. Boss went off, and I figured it'd be some time tomorrow before it got fixed. In the meantime, I had to chock each car, stick a heavy rubber wedge under a tire, as a failsafe measure so the cars wouldn't roll into the river. That was exhausting too. It was just tiring all day!

So then around 5ish, the boss walks onto the ferry. Really? What are you doing here?! He said that J--a county welder who's also all around handy--was also on his way. They were going try to fix it. It took almost 2 hours, having to turn cars away, and a lot of standing around doing nothing while J climbed into the bilge, the 3 foot high space between the hull and the deck, to replace a solenoid. Amazingly, it worked, and they left just in time for me to shut down for the night.

I was hoping that I'd see kids going into town to go trick or treating, but I only saw two kids (zombie and mummy). Gave them both candy though! And I hoped that I'd get home in time to get a bunch of kids come by, but I only got one knock at the door, for a vampire, zombie and hello kitty.

Tomorrow I get to sleep an hour later. I've got a training at the shops, so I'll get to see my friends too.

Monday, October 24, 2011

This is what it all looks like

A good friend had the idea that I should take a video of a trip across the river. It's not great, but it actually shows the trip pretty decently.

(I hope this whole video posting thing works. My first time!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Back from vacation

Do I have to? I had 10 days off and I really really didn't want to go to work today. Plus, I had an odd morning just getting to work:

-As I leave the house, I discover that someone is standing in the corner of the park across the street, pruning the huge (huge huge) cedar tree. Ok, it's pitch black, 6:20 in the morning, on a sunday. And someone's using long reaching pruners to trim the 100+ foot tall tree. As I drive past him (cause of course I'm going to drive past and take a look), there was a surprisingly large pile of branches, like he'd been at it for the last few hours.

-Driving down the interstate, I pass a large RV. Keep in mind, it's still very dark out, so the only light is from cars headlights. As I pull back in front of the RV, I look in the rearview mirror and almost have a heart attack. In the front window of the RV is a jack o lantern, grinning eerily at me. Couldn't see anything in the RV other than the brightly lit orange plastic pumpkin.

-When I get to the ferry, there's a car parked where I park my car. There isn't anyone in the car. I guess they went kayaking and put in super early? Or something. It's eerie though. I don't really like the super dark early mornings, it's creepy enough as it is. Now add a car, and let your imagination run wild.

-The gate was up on the boat. WTF, dude? When we leave for the night, you lower the gate on the side where the boat is parked, so you can walk off, and back on in the morning. For some reason I don't know or understand, my coworker raised the gate last night, then climbed over it. Which is what I had to do at 6:45 in the morning.

Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful day. It's really dark now. I had the lights on by 6pm tonight, and I feel like it was just a few weeks ago that I hadn't needed the lights at all. There's supposed to be a frost this week (local people, bring your plants in!), which'll mean extra chilly mornings.

Vacation was nice. lots of sleep and lazy time. Finished my sweater (it's amazing, no I don't have pics yet, yes I will eventually), went on a business trip to Snoqualmie Falls with my mom, got way too drunk wine tasting with her business associates. And now, normal life returns.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Deciding to put up a whole post of pictures, and lots of them, was really a good excuse to clean out the SD card on my camera as well as all the pics on my phone. Anyway, here are a ton of pics. I often snap random pictures whenever something catches my fancy. I think most of these are ones you haven't seen before, or ones I posted on facebook but not here. Regardless, enjoy!

The fog and spiderweb pics were from yesterday morning. It was so foggy that when a coworker came down to the boat at 9:30 and I was parked on the other side, he had to text me for me to come over and get him. He was flashing his lights, and it was so foggy there was no way I could see the opposite shore.

Looking at these pictures, it makes me realize what a beautiful sky there is down there. I also really love watching the sunrise. It's magical, fresh and new, and all for me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dead in the Water

This morning around 11:30, a county radio shop worker, V, came down to install a phone for the boat. Nice to see him, he's a quiet, methodical guy, very nice. About 5 minutes after he comes, I get a car, so we load up and head to the west side of the river. Drop off the car, and a few minutes later, 3 pedestrians walk down the hill and onto the boat. This is pretty common. Some people want to see the boat but don't like being on the water. Some people are too cheap to want to pay the $3 to ride. No big deal.

They walked on board and were looking around a bit, when I noticed that we'd slipped off the ramp a bit. It's not all that uncommon, especially with the wind gusts we've been having. When that happens, you just put the boat in gear and power back up the ramp. The friction of the boat against the concrete is enough to stick us pretty well. Well, I pushed the throttles forward...and nothing happened. Ok...sometimes they flip the breaker and V was working on electrical stuff. Flipped the breakers to reset...nothing. ummmmm. We're now about 20-30 feet off shore. The current is extremely fast right there, and the boat was just stuck, sitting in the current, which was pushing against the side of the boat.

First things first, I called the boss. V is an electrician, so they talked, and V had checked everything there was to check, nothing worked. So here goes nothing, and I have to put the work boat in the water and see if we can get to shore that way. The work boat is a small outboard motor boat that's attached to the side of the ferry and lifted out of the water. We've got a device that lowers it into the water. So I grab the gas tank, hook that up, lower the boat, grab my life vest (always!) and hop in. I don't disconnect the work boat from the ferry, since I know that in theory, you can use the motor from the outboard to slowly creep the ferry to shore. It's set up to work that way, and I know they've done it on the WL ferry.

Well, it didn't work. Later, talking with the boss, I learned that if you're stuck right where I was, in the current, you're just out of luck. The outboard just isn't strong enough. I didn't know that at the time, and V and I were coming up with an alternate plan of attack. Just in case, he went and checked the power, which had come back on. Hooray! I take the boat back to the shore we'd just come from. I call the boss, let him know. He was relieved, since he said the power company had lost power from the ferry all the way out to the town of Gates (40 miles away), and that it might have taken until 2 pm to get it fixed.

So, everything's hunky dory, right? The pedestrians stay on board, intending to just go for a ride (a choice they would later regret). A car, a mini, comes on board. We head over to the east bank. And the boat dies again, in the middle of the river. I crack up. Nervous insanity laughter of doom.

Ok, well I know that we're out of the current, there should be no problem getting the work boat to get us to the east bank. We're closer to that shore, the water moves slower over here. So I get the outboard going again, and it's working! I can see the boat moving. Not fast, but it's totally getting us there. Until, that is, the outboard dies. Now, the extent of my knowledge about outboard motors comes from the tiny bits of training I got before I got my license. I don't have a boat, I'm never in a boat. This is all new to me. And I knew from day one, that I didn't feel very comfortable handling the outboard. And it showed. V and I (he's not a boat person either) worked and tried everything we could. We thought it was vapor lock. We thought we'd flooded the engine. After about a half hour of dead in the middle of the river, V discovers that I had clipped the gas tank to the hose wrong, and there was a leak. The motor had shut down from air in the line.

Finally working now, we actually get to shore! We tie up the boat, and spend the next 20 minutes lowering first the gate, then the apron, manually. Took wrenches. If the car on board had been a big pickup, they could have just gotten off. But there was about an 18 inch gap between the apron and the ramp, and the car was a mini. Those things have like 2 inches of clearance.

V checked the power, and we had half power. One line worked, he said. I don't know what that means, but it wasn't good enough. So we were still stuck.

So we got the car off. But we still had 3 pedestrians!! And they were on the wrong side of the river. V and I climb up to the electrical boxes on the tower ("climb" meaning a flight of stairs, I didn't go to the top of the 50' tower!), and he thinks that one of the breakers had blown, but he doesn't know which without a volt meter. A half hour later, Ed shows up with a volt meter. We'd thrown a breaker at the tower, and then a fuse in the electrical panel on the boat. All told, power wasn't restored until almost 2.

The poor pedestrians. They were an elderly couple and their adult daughter. The daughter was a knitter, and loved my pile of projects, knitted things and socks on my feet. We talked yarn for a bit. The dad used to build custom motorcycles and wanted to jump in the work boat to help us, but were as clueless as we were. The poor mom! She probably will never go on a boat again in her whole life. She was utterly terrified. I felt so bad for her. When the boat was in motion, she grabbed onto anything she could and hung on for dear life. I almost thought she was going to kiss the ground when we got her to the proper side. Really though, they were wonderful sports about it all. The daughter was up visiting from Phoenix and they were intending to go to the coast today.

So that's my tale. I learned a ton. I'm way more comfortable with the work boat. I think primarily, I learned that I tend to flail about a bit in emergencies, and I just move too fast. I was doing all the right stuff, but I was just moving too fast. If I'd slowed down, I would have noticed that I hooked the gas can up wrong. Stuff like that. V said at one point, "You've got all the knowledge. I just needed to slow you down enough to extract it." He's a good guy.

I'm up and running now. No further problems. The boss did suggest that for the remainder of the day, whenever I don't have cars, park the boat on the east side. That side is more convenient for the county (it's our side of the river), plus it's where my own car is parked. Good point. I'm parked there now.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I'm on the boat

I brought my laptop to work today, since it's pouring rain and so dreadfully slow. It's 11:39 as I write this, and I've had exactly 14 vehicles. That's 14 vehicles in 4 and a half hours. Slooooooow. I didn't have a single car between 8 and 10. Had a nice conversation with my sister for most of that time though!

So the job interview last week went really well. The job is different than I expected, in a really good way. A lot of my apprehension about working for this agency is alleviated. I do really want this job. I was told they were interviewing 7 people, and they're hoping to "know the next step" by the end of the month. GAH! Government jobs take so damn long to hire!

I'm going to buy an ipad soon. I'm really looking forward to it. Right now I'm online using my cell phone as a hotspot, but the reception is really poor, so it's like using dialup. So very 1998.

My sister made a comment this morning that I don't really put that many pictures up on the blog anymore. That's really true. I think it's because I've seen it all. I forget that you, my blog readers, haven't. It really is pretty here. When my mom comes to visit she always comments on it. I forget how pretty it really is, I'm sitting looking at it all day. Right now, the sky is flat and gray, and it's raining. The river is greenish brown, reflecting the trees on the far shore. The leaves are only just barely starting to turn, the green foliage is just starting to be a brownish green. The wind just picked up, so the rain is coming in at a steep angle. I can't see very far in either direction, the low clouds and rain are blocking the distant views up and downstream.

Soon, I promise (next time I remember, and when I'm at home with better cell reception), I'll put up a post full of pictures. I do still take pics of the boat on my phone, I just never post them. oops.

Yesterday, an old retired guy walked onto the boat. He evidently used to be a ferry operator on the BV back in the 1970s. He said he was working one day and a truck waiting on the road forgot to put on the brake, but hopped out to look at the ferry, and the truck rolled into the river! I think he was tickled that I was a young woman operating, I think people always expect the operators to be crusty old dudes.

Then just now (as I was writing this post, actually), another guy walked on. He used to work on the Bridge Crew, which does a lot of work on the ferries for the county. He had all sorts of technical questions. Pleased with myself that I knew the answers.

So yeah. That's a raining morning on the BV for you. I'm bundled up in wool socks, and a thick fleece, with the heater on, watching the rainy world outside the cabin. I think I'll go have a mug of tea.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weird stuff

It's really dark when I get to work now. Plus it was pissing rain this morning. I unlocked the boat, started the engines to head across the river. When I was about 50 yards out, the boat started twisting weirdly. I look up, and there's a BIG tree stuck on the low water line:

It probably drifted down sometime overnight and got wrapped up in the line. I crunched into it, stopped, backed up, crunched into it again, and repeated. The 2nd or 3rd time, I broke enough branches with the ferry that it broke free and drifted downstream. What a mess first thing in the morning. I remember the more experienced ferry operators mentioning that you really had to watch out for trees at the BV, but jeez man! That's intense. It was sort of freaky to deal with. I was worried about breaking the line, but really, I guess it's sturdier than I expected.

So I finally get the boat open and start setting up for my work week, unpacking my food and knitting, and reading the log book to see if anything interesting happened on my coworker's 3 days on the boat. And holy crap. There was an entry for yesterday that said basically, "Sherriff's office recovered a dead body approximately 70 yards downstream on the west side. 4:30 pm." Wait...WHAT? And yeah, that's what happened. There was an article in the Oregonian. Poor guy. Really sad. I guess he was a local. I didn't really talk to many of the local regulars today, but I'm going to ask someone who'll come by tomorrow morning if she knew the guy. I also feel bad for my coworker for probably seeing the guy drift past the boat. Turns my stomach.

Other than that, I guess, it was a pretty regular day. It rained almost all day. I really got to see how pokey and cold and wet it's going to be if I'm working this job all winter. I'm considering getting flannel lined jeans. I bought a fantastic fleece jacket this weekend. Still, it was wet, no way around it.

I've got a job interview on thursday for a local job in town that I really want. I'm well qualified, and know the department really well. Fingers crossed. I don't want to be working the ferry in the dead of winter.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shop Day

On Tuesday, the boss came down to the boat to give my my paycheck (which included all the overtime from labor day--OMGpaycheck), and suggested I spend wednesday in the shop working on the map and brochure I said I'd make for the ferry. I was pretty stoked, since I felt pretty burned out on the boat in general.

So Wednesday morning, I showed up at the boat at my normal time, then around 9:30, they guy who runs the boat on my days off (and has a shop day on wednesdays), showed up with the county truck at the boat. I hopped in and spent until about 4:30 at my old desk, with my old coworkers, having a really nice time.

And I'll say, yes, I got pranked before I even sat down. Damn you Patty!! Some of you may not know this, but my coworkers and I like to prank each other. I got really really good at it. Most of my pranks used things like the little paper bits left over when you hole-punch a paper. If you collect them every month from the photocopier, it really adds up. And if you strategically place them so they explode out on people when they least expect it, it's pretty awesome. So when I walked around the corner and into my old cube, Patty jumped out at me, yelling, "HI JENNY!" and honking a horn at me. I about peed my pants. It was awesome.

I didn't get the map done, but I made a lot of headway. Maybe one more shop day? :) I'm excited at how it looks, and it'll be really useful to show people how to get to the interstate or the butterfly place.

Around 4:15, I headed back to the ferry, since my coworker's wednesdays end at 5:30 and he needed to get back. The day flew by, I left with a ton of energy. It was so nice. It reminded me what I used to feel like after a normal day of work. I miss that. The 12.5 hour days are intense. I get home, too tired to cook dinner, too tired to run any errands. All I want to do is knit for a bit, then go to bed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Summer is over

Really really over. It poured yesterday and again this morning. Then this afternoon it was so windy but also warm, it almost felt like massive thunderstorm weather in Texas. Because of the clouds and rain, there's virtually no traffic on the boat. Yesterday, instead of the usual 150 cars of Sunday tourists, I had 92, 20 of which were bikes. Today, driving rain in the morning and brutal wind in the afternoon, 56 cars. Do you realize how boring that is? I knit. I read. I listen to podcasts and music. I eat more chocolate than I should, simply cause it's there. I walk laps around the deck (40 laps equals a mile. I measured and calculated).

I'm bored. :( I think I'm sort of over this job. The whole fun boat in the summer stuff is over. Now it's fall, crappy weather, dark mornings and nights, even less traffic. I'm ready to get out of here, get a job in my field. There's a good job I'm hoping to interview soon for, and a few in Corvallis that I'm going to apply for. I'm sort of disappointed that it's now fall, and I'm still on the ferry. The good pay, the scenery, the quirkiness of the ferry doesn't compare with working inside, closer to home, in a job I like, a job that uses my brain.

Sorry, I'm sort of pensive and mopey this week. I'll be better soon, I promise.

In the meantime:

Because it's dark, I've finally gotten to see how the lights are on the ferry. And they're awesome:

The boat lights up like a christmas tree. I love it.

I didn't get a picture, but the wild turkey chicks aren't chicks anymore. they're awkward and big! And there is a doe and fawn I see most days, the fawn is growing quickly. I love the regular wildlife.

We finally got a new desk chair for the cabin, since the old one was probably 30 years old and just terrible. And the new one isn't actually new, and it's terrible in it's own way. Which sucks, but I know there's no use mentioning it, just getting a different chair was like pulling teeth.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Watch Out For That Tree!

First of all, yesterday the welder came down and did a quick fix on the broken roller plate. The whole setup with the rollers was our made up invention anyway, and was never engineered or anything. The boss came down and with the welder, came up with a better plan that we'll have to manufacture. It'll take a few months, but the quick fix weld should hopefully last that long.

So today was just a typical boring day until I just so happened to hit a tree. Yeah. I hit a tree with the boat, in the middle of the river.

My cousin had come down (he of the previous links to pictures of turdles and rainbows coming out of his butt. There's also the whole underwear made from beef jerky thing...) to hang out on his lunch break. He works in Albany, and it's a quick 15 minutes on back roads up to the ferry. We were hanging out in the cabin gossiping, with rare bits of traffic, since it was around 1, after the lunch "rush."

There were two cars on board and we were mid-river heading east, when suddenly my cousin says, "whoa what's that?" I turn to look, just as I see a bunch of branches crunch into the apron. I throw the boat into reverse and then cut the engines completely, so the props wouldn't get beat up. It seems like most of the tree stayed forward of the boat, mostly rolling under the apron (which juts out over the water).

The next concern, and a big one, was the low water line (LWL). If you remember from my last post, this is the cable that sits downstream and underwater. A tree with a big root ball and a bunch of branches could snag in the LWL really bad. The tension on the line from the tree could snap the LWL, or the tree could get hung up, which means we wouldn't be able to operate until we got a chainsaw down to the boat to cut the tree up. Amazingly, none of that happened. The tree hung onto the LWL for awhile, then slowly the whole thing rotated and rolled under the line, root ball, branches and all. It was pretty amazing.

The passengers in the two cars were super surprised and a bit stunned. Once I was sure the tree was totally out of the way, we continued on our merry way completely unharmed.

The tree stuck on a gravel bar at the start of some very small rapids, only about 30 yards downstream of the ferry.

I doubt it'll stay there long, water levels are projected to rise sharply next week, which should free the tree and send it downstream, so it can wreck havoc on someone else. I feel like I really escaped a potentially awful situation. Worst case, to me, would have been if the tree had become stuck. I would have had to take the boat back to the west landing, back the cars off, give them back their money, and call in that the boat was stuck. Ugh. I really don't want something like that to happen on my shift!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

It's Not My Fault!

Something broke. Something that sort of surprised me that it could break. My boss felt the same way when I called him.

This is what the low water line (LWL) roller should look like.

So a plate on top, a plate on bottom (that you can't really see because of the water weeds), two rollers inside, and the LWL moves through it. Basically, as the boat goes across the river, the LWL, which sits underwater, is picked up and moved through these rollers. There's a secondary set, so these are on outer edges of the boat.

This is what the other one looked like this afternoon:

Do you see that? We're talking quarter inch steel plate here. The LWL broke through it. That's craziness!

I discovered this when I landed on the east side, and had one of the worst landings I've ever done. Slid super far over, landed really hard, had very little control, skidded over a bunch of rocks. When the people in the two cars looked over, a bit scared (I hit super hard, the whole boat rattled), I just smiled, like, "oh yeah, every landing is like this!"

So now the boat drives all wonky. The landings on the east side are crap now, I slide way far up the ramp, hull out (slam into the ramp with the hull), it's just a mess. I've figured out how to land for the most part, but it's messy and complicated.

Since I'm sure none of the logistics makes sense, here's a graphic. The LWL is the underwater cable. It's usually pretty loose, but really helps at the landings. When the boat is mid-river, it helps to keep the boat straight.
So the roller on the far right (east) side broke off. It's amazing to me how many things it changes. Basically it's just a royal pain.

The boss is going to come down first thing in the morning, he wants to see the problem and see how it affects the boat. I'm guessing the welding crew and welding truck will spend most of the day on the boat tomorrow. Which means intermittent closures, big noises, and epic levels of boredom (cause it's not like I can weld!).

The only sliver lining is that I really can't see a way that this was my fault! I think the part just broke. So even though the boat broke on my watch, I didn't break the boat!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fall is Coming

The sun hasn't risen when I get to work, and it's just about set when I leave. The last few days have been cool, cool enough that I've turned the heat on in the cabin in the morning. Leaves are starting to trickle down from the trees. The turkeys are wandering all over the place, and this week I started seeing deer everywhere. It's sort of fascinating to have a job that keeps me so aware of the weather, seasons, animals, river. I'm so used to sitting in a cubicle, 20 feet from the nearest window, mostly out of touch with the world outside. And now I am outside.

Yesterday I had a visit in the afternoon from a woman who said, "Are you Captain Jenny? I read your blog!" OMG! A stranger, who reads my blog! I was so dorked out, I forgot to get her name, but she and her husband were out exploring all three ferries yesterday (though evidently the Canby ferry was closed). Strangers read my blog?!!!! Somehow that just makes my head explode. Really, I never thought I wanted to blog, that I wouldn't have anything interesting to say. And now that I'm doing it, I really love it. So wonderful woman who stopped by the ferry, thank you, and I'm sorry I was so dorkish!

My dad came up to the ferry again this morning, guitar in tow. I love it that he shows up, doesn't call, I just look up and there's a familiar looking gray suv parking next to my car. Today when Dad was on the boat, a couple of carloads of retired tourist types came through. They thought it was so cool, live entertainment!

I think I'm starting to somewhat get used to the super long hours. I'm not quite as tired at the end of the day or the end of the week. I'm still at the point where I consider it a victory if I can make dinner and do the dishes when I get home before collapsing on the couch or straight into bed. I'm starting to get a routine on the boat, knitting and reading, listening to podcasts all day since the radio doesn't get NPR. Speaking of which, favorite podcasts? I've already got a bunch of good ones, This American Life, RadioLab, The Moth, The Story. What else should I listen to?

Regardless, it's my Friday, I've just worked 52 hours, and I think I'm about to turn into a pumpkin if I don't get into bed soon.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Birthday on the Boat

All told, it was a really nice day. Sundays are usually hit or miss. It's a weekend, so it might be crazy, it might be dead. The people might all be drunk, or all really nice. You never know what you're going to get.

On the way to work, I looked over to see a coyote trotting through a field.

The sunrise was pretty great:

My first car of the morning was an ultralight parachute airplane thingie. I wanted to go for a ride!

I bought a new sun hat yesterday, and I love it. It's very light, way more feminine than the cap I've been wearing, and keeps my head and neck cool and shady. And I think it looks great on me!

My mom and aunt Merrill came up to the boat, and brought me a blackberry shake from Burgerville. It was so great to see Merrill, who lives up on the Olympic Peninsula. They hung out for awhile, then my cousin Brady and his family came up for awhile. Hectic, fun, good times.

I had expected that it would get super hot (like 95) today, and be just awful. It didn't feel like it got that hot, plus there was a breeze all day. It was really nice, and later in the day, it cooled down quickly and the breeze picked up. It felt great.

There were lots of motorcyclists today, this cracked me up:

Traffic totally died around 5:45, which made me happy. Around 6:45, a woman walked on board. She often drives over to the boat near closing and just sits on the shore, watching the river. This time, she came on, and we talked for awhile. She mentioned that she had sailed around the Caribbean and spent about a month in Grenada. Of course, having spent two weeks there, I exclaimed, "oh isn't Grenada wonderful?!" and she was totally flabbergasted! She said she's never met anyone who had ever been to Grenada, and most people have never even heard of it. It was fun to talk to her while closing up the boat.

All said and done, I'm glad I worked today. While talking to the Grenada woman, I mentioned that it was my birthday and that I was working so I could ignore all of the media today. And she agreed, saying that it felt pretty grim. While today didn't especially feel like a birthday (but what should a birthday feel like, anyway? Especially once you're no longer a kid and it's a work day), it was a nice day. I had fun.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Twenty Questions

People seem to ask the same questions all the time. Some of them, I've come up with charming, snarky or funny answers. Let's go through some of them:

Q: Can I get out of the car? (This is asked at least 10 times a day)
A: Of course!

Q: Where do I park? Is here ok?
A: Wherever you want! You've got the whole boat to yourself.

Q: What's the bell for?
A: For you to ring.

Q: Where will I be when we get to the other side?
A: You'll be on the other side. (seriously, this is my most favorite answer)

Q: How long until you leave? What's the schedule?
A: How about now? (People think the ferry is on a schedule, like the Seattle area ferries. Instead, I go when I have a car. Also, they like that answer. They think I'm doing it special just for them.)

Q: Are you electric of diesel?
A: Electric

Q: How's your day going?
A: Eh, back and forth. (Get it?! that's what I do all day! you've got to have the right person to use that one on)

Q: Is this boat new?
A: Yup, it's got that new boat smell.

Q: What happened last month when you were shut?
A: Ummm.....operator error. And no, it wasn't me!

Q: How much money do you make? This must pay really well. (seriously, people ask me this all the time!)
A: Plenty.

Q: Do boats get snagged on the cable?
A: Nope. They can cross just fine. We recommend staying decently far from the boat. That gives the cable time to sink back underwater. It's also safer.

Q: Why don't they build a bridge?
A: A new boat and ramps cost $5 million (I think). A bridge would probably cost $20 million.

Q: Where's your fishing pole? Do you fish off this thing?
A: Can I borrow yours?

Q: How late are you open?
A: Until 7, and my last trip is from west to east at exactly 7.

Q: Are you open year round?
A: We are now. (The previous ferry was closed in the winter. This ferry is more powerful and should do fine in the winter currents)

Q: Can I launch my kayak/canoe here?
A: Please don't! It's not safe, the ferry can slip off the ramp and slide 10 feet that way, right where you might be standing.

Q: How many trips do you make a day?
A: As many as I need to. (We don't keep track of that, just the number of vehicles per day)

Q: It's $3? The other ferry is $2!
A: We've got to pay for that new ferry smell!

Q: Have you been busy today?
A: Busy knitting!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

an odd and busy day

It's Labor Day weekend, so of course, everyone's out and about, going wine tasting, to the coast, kayaking and canoeing, swimming, driving in the country. And lots of them come across the ferry. From 10 am until about 5:30, I was going back and forth nonstop. The vast majority of people had never been on the ferry before. There were a ton of random gps followers, the best being the one heading EAST on the ferry, and asking if it was the way to Seaside (which is on the coast--Northwest of the ferry).

At one point late morning, I was listening to the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou. I had it on the stereo in the cabin, and depending on where you were standing on deck, you could hear it. This is the song I was listening to:
Around the 1:10 mark, there's yodeling. So I was out taking tolls, and was standing talking to three bicyclists. One of them heard the song, smiled that he knew the song, and right at the yodeling part, started yodeling! So I started singing along. His friends thought we were both crazy. It was hilarious.

At another point, I was talking to a woman who had just taken her kids to Wings of Wonder, the butterfly place in Buena Vista. I was looking to my right, at her, while I walked forward, and walked straight into a wall. I started laughing, then she started laughing, and then she SNORTED. Oh man it cracks me up when people actually snort with laughter.

This afternoon, I walked up to a small pickup to take toll, and it was an older man and his wife. The guy was probably at least 75 or 80, his wife the same. As he hands me his $3, he said, "We've got a hot young babe to drive the boat today!" EWW! So inappropriate!

I totally got yelled at! It was so weird and I was livid. So here's the deal. On the old ferry, the east boat ramp was shared as both a ferry launch and a public boat ramp. When the ramp was rebuilt for the new ferry, it's no longer a public boat ramp. Because this is a change, and the ferry has only been reopened for a few months, we're having to educate people to not use the ramp. Often though, kayaks and canoes will try to land their boats next to the ferry anyway. This is where they land:
It's about 8 feet from the boat. Sometimes when the boat lands, it'll jump and slide quite far in that direction before I can get to the throttles to control it. It's unsafe to stand there. And there are signs.

At least 4 times today, I had to go and talk to boaters and tell them that it's no longer a public boat launch, it's not safe, please use the park across the river, etc. 98% of people are fine with it. Until today. So a group of 8 kayakers pulled their boats up while I was on the other side of the river. By the time I got over there with a car, they were up at the parking area. So I walked up, and gave them my friendly speech. And this lady got all loud and yelled, "WHERE DO YOU GET OFF TELLING ME NOT TO! IT'S PUBLIC LAND AND I PAY MY TAXES!" One of her boating friends stepped in and stood between me and her. I basically just said that I'm only the messenger, and turned and walked back down to the boat. I was so livid! People are so weird.

I expect tomorrow to be equally busy, with as many random gps-ers, newbies and awkward people. Most of the day was fun. I'm thinking tomorrow or tuesday, once I'm done working, I'm going to walk back down the boat ramp and jump in the river for a quick swim. It's still 85 when I leave work. I was very tempted tonight.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wild Turkeys, Wine, and Magnets

This morning, I got to work, drove to the other side, parked my car, and walked up to unlock the gate. And saw a whole family of wild turkeys.

There were three adults and 5 or 6 juveniles. So Damn Cute! It reminded me of Massachusetts. I remember driving around the back roads near my parents house in Barre and suddenly having to stop as a flock of turkeys stumbled across the road. I do love the random animals and wildlife at this job. Mostly I see osprey. So many that it's become mundane. They're gorgeous though. There's at least two nests on each side of the river, and they're swooping down to catch fish or cruising the air currents all day. In the morning, I hear fish jumping out of the river constantly. There are extremely friendly cats that will rub up against your leg if you stand up on the ramp. And tonight there were two neighborhood dogs playing near the boat, and the sweetest old chocolate lab wanted so much to jump into my car with me. Aww.

When my coworker B came down today, he had a list of tasks to accomplish. He spends one day a week as a "shop day," and 3 days operating the ferry. He spends his shop day doing whatever the boss decides needs to get done. Today, he hopped in the work boat, and navigated over to some snags near the boat. He had a small chainsaw on a long pole, and it was waterproof. So he was able to cut down the underwater snags that could get in the way of the boat. Once that was done, he went fishing with magnets. When the guys were dredging, the managed to drop a metal piece of the dredging setup in the water. I think it was on top of one of the barges, and it fell off when they pulled the barge out of the water. From what I can tell, it's a large L shaped piece of welded metal. It's somewhere on the ramp, under about 6 feet of water. We tried to hook it with the spike pole. We tried a grappling hook. Today B came prepared with a magnet meant to hold 250 lbs. That should totally do it, right? So he attached the magnet (which looked like this) to a length of rope, and managed to stick it to the metal. Then he started to pull it slowly. And suddenly, pop! the rope came back up. The magnet was stuck tight to the metal, but the ibolt on top had sheared off! So now the piece of metal and the magnet are stuck together at the bottom of the river. I have no idea what the boss will come up with next to get it out, but if someone has to go swimming to get it, it's not going to be me!

Monday, August 29, 2011

A tour of the boat

This is what you see when you look in the cabin:
That fancy looking control panel with tons of knobs and buttons? At least half of it is just light switches. They could have condensed all of the switches down to a 2 foot square, but instead the spread it out. It's sort of nice. And looks very important. In back, that's my desk, aka, where I read, knit, and eat lunch. If you stand in the same place as I took this pic, and turn right, you see:
More windows, our bulletin board, and the fridge, microwave and coffee maker. And tons of windows. It really warms up in there, but there's an AC unit on the roof. It's so nice. Also, if you leave the door open and open one window down by the desk, you get a lovely breeze. I didn't even turn the AC on today, and it was delightful.

On the other side of the boat, there's another cabin. It's the machinery room. It looks funny from the outside:
 The low part is only about 3 or 4 feet high. That's because you open the door to the machinery room and see this:

There's a very steep flight of stairs, and you go down four steps to the machinery. It's a pretty smart design. It means that from the main cabin, you can actually see what's going on downstream. The WL ferry has a machinery room in the same location, and it really blocks the view.

And yes, that's the bathroom right in the middle of the air compressor and everything. By the end of the day, the machinery room is at least 120 degrees, and that's with a fan running full time. I don't care. It's a toilet that flushes and doesn't smell, and the best part of all--a sink! With running water! And soap! Don't ask about the bathroom on the WL. I'd prefer to expunge that image (and smell) from my memory forever.

And oddly, the window in the machinery room/bathroom has the best view on the whole boat. You're down low, the river water is only about a foot below the window sill. And when you look out the window, you don't see the boat, just the river and the wide world. It's lovely.

I spent today focusing as much as possible on learning how to drive the boat while sitting. It's not all that hard, it's just a change in my sight lines. But oh my goodness. My feet! It makes all the difference in the world. I sat most of the day, instead of standing. Most of you know how bad my feet are. And if you don't, I give you this illustration. When I walk barefoot across a hard surface, my feet are so flat that they suction to the floor with each step. These feet of mine? They're not meant for standing on for a long time. I'm fine if I'm moving all the time, walking or jogging. Standing is the enemy. So learning to land the boat seated is a godsend.

And have I mentioned how gorgeous it is here? It's lush and full of trees. And fish are constantly jumping out of the river. There are at least 3 osprey nests right near the ferry, so they're always swooping into the river for fish. It smells good there. Like the river, and warm fields and mint crops and blackberries.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tomorrow is my Friday

I'm so tired that there aren't words to describe it. A 12.5 hour day, plus a half hour driving each way, is really intense. I can very easily see the points in the day where I get overly tired, because my landings turn to shit. Like, slamming into the ramp and making the whole boat lurch. Which then makes me curse up a blue streak. And hope the door to the cabin is shut so the friendly tourist passengers don't hear me.

So many random people have come on the boat. A huuuuge portion of the daily riders are people who say, "I was just following my GPS and all of a sudden it said I was going on a ferry!" Really? Do people just blindly follow their GPS's and not question the routes at all? Today, I had 67 vehicles, and I'd say at least 10 of them were blind GPSers. Tomorrow, I'm going to keep a tally. It truly fascinates me. I'm such a geographer, a mapper, and so very aware of where I am and where I'm going when traveling. I can't fathom not really paying attention to where I'm going like that.

Last night, at 6:59, I was walking up the steep hill to lock the gate on the west bank. A car came barreling down, and sure enough, she was a GPS follower. She barely had enough change in her car for the toll, but she was so grateful that I let her on, that I was here, and that I didn't lock her out and send her around, that she opened the trunk of her car. She was a distributor for Wrigley's gum, and she simply said, "do you like gum?" The trunk of her car was like Willy Wonka's factory or something. I ended up with like 10 packs of Orbit gum and a few things of life savers. Seriously you guys, I'm not asking people for stuff, it's just randomly falling into my lap.

Another odd car: This afternoon, a car came on, and the couple got out to gossip with me. The husband was from the Louisiana Bayou, and I swear I could only understand about 2 words in 3. Awesome accent. He said there were tons of ferries in Louisiana, across the Mississippi and around the Delta. And he said his cousin was a captain on one of those riverboat casinos. Evidently, even though the casinos are stationary, and are built in pools and will NEVER travel on the river, because they're a boat, they're required to have a captain on board at all times. Anyway, he said something about how much money being a captain must make, and guessed an hourly wage almost exactly what I make. And when I sort of blushed, cause I didn't want to say that's what I made, he cracked up and said, "If you make that much money, I want to marry you! I love my wife, but I want your money!"

Oh! and a guy offered me a joint today. He and his girlfriend came aboard and said that my job must be so perfect, and "dooooood, it'd be even better with a bowl." I laughed and said yeah, it'd be nice, but I had to actually be able to pay attention. He actually offered me a joint right there. Nice offer....but no. I in the random drug testing program at work. Plus, I don't want stories to get out, "hey, that ferry chick? She drives it stoned!"

Yesterday morning, I looked up the ramp, and there was my dad, coming to hang out. He brought his guitar and music setup, and sat around making awesome music for about 3 hours. It was really nice!
Driving the boat has become totally routine. I was so worried that it'd take me forever to get good at the landings. I worried that as the water levels changed, I'd have a hard time adjusting. But I'm doing this every day. I've got this. I'm so pleased at how completely I've got this. As the river changes, I'll see it, and adjust without even noticing.

The regulars are starting to notice me and introduce themselves to me. I'm starting to recognize them, as well. I love how people really aren't in a hurry to get across the river. I love that I often stand there and talk to them for 5 minutes before I even take them across the river.

As tired as I am, I'm trying to do simple things once I get home at night, so that I'm not just eating and going straight to bed. Like, make dinner and do the dishes. That sort of simple. But it does help. It makes me feel less like the ferry is consuming my life. Next week will be better. I think it'll take a few weeks to get used to the schedule and the long days, but it's only 4 days. I get 3 day weekends! I figure, it's one day to recuperate and sleep, and 2 days to have a weekend. And it's really nice to have weekdays off. I think having Thursday, Friday, and Saturday off is about as perfect as it gets.

So yeah, things are pretty good. My feet hurt, I'm tired, my house is a mess, and I'm running out of clean laundry, but this ferry thing? I've got it.