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.