Deckhand Journal

working for american cruise lines

I typed up my journal entries from my time working as a deckhand for American Cruise Lines. I had no intention of keeping a regular journal, just recording the experience and my thoughts while working twelve hours per day for three months straight aboard a cruise ship.

Looking back, they lend insight into life as a deckhand, the development of my ideas, and the shaping of my future as I struggled choosing between a couple good options. As there is little detailed information on the internet about working for American Cruise Lines, I share this as a better look at the experience for those who are considering working with them.

February 10th, 2015

The television overhead blares FOX News as a ever changing cast of news anchors waffle between berating Barrack Obama and talking about the girl from my school who was killed by ISIS. I just finished two days of deckhand training at the American Cruise Lines home office in Guilford, Connecticut and I'm now hiding from the frozen landscape of white powder in the local McDonald's. New England has received over five feet of snow in the last month. Why do so many people live here?

Two days ago, I boarded a plane in Phoenix, marking the beginning of a new adventure. I'll be working the next three months as a deckhand for American Cruise Lines and will spend the following three WWOOFing on a farm in Hawaii. Today marks the beginning of a couple weeks in New England before I head out to the ship. Instead of going home to spend the time between training and flying out to my ship, I'll be staying with family I haven't visited for much to long in Connecticut. I'm going to be picked up by my uncle in a few hours at this McDonald's.

So many new people, places, and experiences lay ahead... The beauty of it all: I'll experience the entirety of the East Coast of the United States and spend three months on the Big Island of Hawaii, all the while making about $9,000. I've played my cards right and with no responsibilities other than a cell phone bill and a small chunk of student loans, the world is my playground.

Anyway, this journal will be along for the ride. Hopefully it'll be filled with interesting thoughts and recollections of good times.


February 21st, 2015

I flew down to Florida today to meet three ACL cruise ships in the shipyard! I'll be working on the American Glory, a 49 passenger ship. It seems we'll be sailing around Florida for a while, but first I've got ten days in the shipyard doing last minute preparations before starting this next cruise season. There are three ships here and they've somehow docked them all side-to-side, connected to each other. From land, you step onto the American Star, walk across it's width and a ramp connects it to the Independence, which is connected across it's width to the American Glory.

I was the last of our four deckhands to arrive. I showed up and we were immediately given uniforms and put to work with little introduction. We painted the top deck guardrails of the Glory, which was pretty easy work. Cool people and not too fast paced. Everyone's new, so we're all a bit reserved, but I can tell we will mesh well in time.

Currently writing this in a guestroom aboard the American Star, which I'll be staying in for the next couple nights. Passengers will pay over $8,000 a week for this room, which baffles me—it feels more like a Days Inn on a boat. I'm not sure why anyone would pay so much for one of these cruises? We'll see, though, once we're cruising I'll have a better understanding.

Off to a monster truck show with the crew!



March 14th, 2015

Thoughts from late-night rounds:

This week I begin the loss of circadian rhythm experiment. My shift now starts at midnight and ends at noon. I've decided to break my journal out and chronicle my thoughts for the next few nights, as I expect my mind to be in unusual places.

2:47am Surprisingly awake and enthused for such a shift. Really glad to be working on the Glory. Learning lots, meeting people, and seeing new places. But not just visiting these places, with work as a deckhand, I feel not as a visitor, tourist, or observer, but some sort of oxymoronical traveling local. I missed that feeling of belonging on my week long solo AZ bike tour this fall. Experiences are better shared.

2:56am – Noticed someone who seems to have used my idea for videography of a city. Bummer I never got too far on that. Go live in a place for a year, shoot timelapses and video, then put it all together in a couple minute promo and eventually get cities to pay you for it. Sort of like that Yosemite HD Video, but for cities.

3:07am – Cruise ships are wasteful. After every meal, pounds and pounds of delicious passenger food is thrown away. Really makes me wonder, of all the food we actually grow and harvest, how much do we actually eat? On this ship, it wouldn't surprise me if 35% of the food was tossed out. When and if future populations run out of the ability to produce more food the efficiency of it's actual uptake will be a logical place to look for improvement.

3:25am – Just want to express my belief in a “low information diet.” If you input too much information constantly or over a short period of time, the info is less memorable and/or useful. For this reason, I don't watch news or read newspapers often. It's also why reading and books are so useful as what is written can be digested at one's own pace and fully understood.

3:38am – Remove all other distractions of a sense and focus them all on one sole subject. The intensity is amplified ten fold. A silence and calm overlies the usually bustling cruise ship and music from my headphones hits like a bucket of ice water. Awesome. Haven't enjoyed music this much in a long time.

4:18am – Hungry. It's funny how well your body can direct your minds attention when it needs something. I'm going to go eat two boxes of Raisin Bran.

4:51am – The chefs are getting started. Bummer! The quiet, sleeping cruise ship is waking up.


March 15th, 2015

Once again, thoughts from late night rounds:

1:52am – My alarm buzzed at 11:20pm. Dazed, I walked into the bathroom and the Engine Room Assistant greeted me with a sprightly “Good Morning!!!” sympathizing with my late night shift. I was struck with panic for a second wondering if it was actually morning and I missed my shift. I've been thinking about it for the past hour or so and I've come to the conclusion that its all relative, a matter of perspective. For me, 11:35pm is morning this week and though it's almost 2:00am, it still feels like morning. If everyone woke up at 11:20pm all the time, we would all consider morning to be at such an hour. Though we naturally sleep in sync with the sun, if some crazy circumstance caused us to avoid it, it's conceivable that everyone's morning hours could fall during the night time... I think the caffeine is getting to me.

3:57am – Really heavily considering work as a deckhand on a private yacht after this. Salaries for a deckhand on such a boat range from 30K to 45K per year. More importantly, I'm enjoying work as a deckhand on a floating retirement home, it must be great to work in a more interesting environment. Serious travel and serious pay, I'm seriously considering it. Definitely going to spend some time in Hawaii first though!


March 18th, 2015

More thoughts from late night rounds:

3:36am – Still like this job, but I have two problems with the company...

  1. 11pm curfew. Seriously? I'm one of the few 23 year old's who doesn't have the option to choose when to come and go.

  2. No alcohol allowed. Once again, 23 years old! I have to sneak around like a freshman in college again. Most importantly, though, getting a drink is how most people socialize after a 12 hour workday. It makes hanging out in all these awesome downtown areas more difficult.

Both rules limit our ability to experience each port. Still enjoying everything! These things just gnaw at you.

4:16am – A deckhand quit this week. He has the worst technological addiction I've ever seen. He lives for “his shows." He spent every moment possible starring at his phone—even during meals when we all ate together—he'd just sit there and watch videos. He didn't enjoy ship-life because he never experienced it. Awareness of something is essential in the enjoyment of it.


March 25th, 2015

I'm tired and propped up by caffeine at the moment. Because we're short a deckhand, I've been alone since 12am, for 4.5 hours now. Quite an interesting experience... My body goes around folding laundry, moving furniture, doing rounds etc., but my mind is elsewhere. Meeting all these deckhands on beautiful private yachts with normal schedules, I find myself constantly dreaming of working on such beautiful boats. My mind is far from the now. I'm damn tired, though, so I'm far from concerned about my level of presence in this moment.

The lines from a Counting Crows song were stuck in my head today:

“Step out the front door
like a ghost into the fog
where no one notices the contrast
of white on white.
In between the moon and you
angels get a better view
of the crumbling difference
between wrong and right.
I walk in the air, in the rain
through myself and back again
Where? I don't know.
Maria says she's dying
through the door I here her crying,
Why? I don't know.”

April 3rd, 2015


What a day yesterday! I spent the morning blasting around St. Augustine on a Vespa. That little guy could run! Got it up to 40mph coming down off the Bridge of Lyons. It felt dangerous, I'd be happy to ride that fast for a couple hours, but full time at that speed, it would only be a matter of time before someone pulled out in front of me or something. Pushing the limits of my comfort zone on that scooter was a friggin blast though.

Upon my return to the boat I received a temporary promotion from deckhand to Engine Room Assistant (ERA), which will likely be offered to me upon completion of my deckhand contract if I do a good job. The ERA receives essentially the same pay rate ($10 per day extra), but if you hold the position for six months and pass a Coast Guard exam, you become a licensed QMED which has a starting pay rate of $250 a day in most marine industries. One more license and another $50 to $100 per day can be made. Not too shabby!

I could see working as a QMED for a couple years. Maybe six months a year at sea, which would pull in $52,000 and allow for six months a year off. Then if I ever wanted to settle down, I could go back, redo those core classes (anatomy, micro etc.) and become a Physician Assistant.


April 6th, 2015

VANAGON, VANAGON, VANAGON!!! I picked up a bright spark of obsession yesterday via the ship's temporary captain. The VW Vanagon. It's a sweet looking tiny home on wheels. Has a sink, refrigerator, and stove for a kitchen. A couple cabinets, a table with a sofa around it that turns into a large bed. Take your home with you, pay no rent, and it can be shipped from CA to New Zealand for $1500.

Envision a life of boat work punctuated with beautiful Vanagon adventures all over the world. Take home with you, cover land in a van and ocean by boat. Meet people, backpack, surf, snowboard, scuba, write for The Living Theory, and make a living working 6 months on a boat, the other six months spent anywhere, doing anything.

I was turned onto this idea by the captain, who rode the exact same cross country bicycle route as I in the Bikecentennial of 1976. It's amazing the people you meet on the water. There are people who think like me and amazingly, it seems they're all out here.

This is all too exciting. Life rocks and I think I'm narrowing in on a path I desire. Yay for holding out, as Steve Jobs said, “as with all matters of the heart, you'll know it when you find it.”


April 13th, 2015

Today is a significant day in the road map of my life. I'm in. I'm all out loving and gunning to work on ships. I think I'd like to captain them eventually. Most people choose a career path that keeps them chained to home, but I've discovered you can also chain yourself away from it. I choose the high seas, the open road, exploration and living each day with childlike excitement of wonder and adventure. It's not a definite A or B choice, but I definitely prefer a lean towards the horizon.

The original captain of the American Glory (and my favorite captain) basically laid the plans for me to become a QMED for American Cruise Lines. The temporary mate seems quite excited for me too, and took the time to explain how I can advance toward a 100 Ton Captain's License.

  • 720 days at sea required
  • I'm getting 1.5 days per day at sea (12 hour shift)
  • Pass Coast Guard Test (take class for roughly $1000)
  • Then can work as a mate and up to captain.

Welcome to the world's best office.

April 20th, 2015

I was planning on writing about the parallels between habits and starting a fire, but the combination of being tired (working the 6pm to 6am shift), hungry, and awkwardly hit on in the laundry room for the past half an hour by a girl I'm not into has left me in a less than intellectual mood. Something's bubbling up inside of me—a familiar sort of dissatisfaction or itch if you will.

Say I become a captain. What does that really mean? What's my individual importance, my purpose, my drive to succeed, and what would success be?

I'm always caught up on this thought of purpose. Maybe in our temporary existence on this earth, there isn't much of a purpose for an individual. 100 years from now, 99% of us will be forgotten and gone. What lives on? Our children do, and in some way maybe we're an extension from some original branch, which might be significant. However, our thoughts, actions, and contributions can't really even hope to be footnotes in the book of time and space.

Eastern Philosophy seems to address these questions quite well and even calls my dilemma the miracle of life. Maybe I should look further into it?


April 21st, 2015

I think art is one of—if not the—highest of human functions. Few other animals make art. It serves as no efficient survival purpose. It fulfills no basic need. Why do we feel such need and desire to create music, poetry, write, draw, paint, sculpt, sing, dance, or in any other artistic medium?

In response to what I wrote yesterday, I think I need to write for The Living Theory, not for profit or internet fame, but simply to express my art: writing and understanding. No matter what I do for economic profit, my highest calling and passion can lie in the passing of brilliant ideas though writing.

I also think when one gets bored with their current situation, they should find a cause or problem and work to make it right. Like fighting to overturn Citizen's United. Protest. Picket. Creatively fight the forces of evil.

Hell yeah.


April 22nd, 2015

I knew little going into being Engine Room Assistant for the week, simply took a calm, logical approach to every problem. I worked to understand how something worked, trying to gain knowledge from the system itself, manuals, and others.

If given enough time, one can figure out just about anything. Every piece of machinery was imagined and built logically, with no attempted tricks or mystery about it. Fixing things is about understanding them and following the logical flow of the system until the problem is found. #ZenandtheArtofMotorcycleMaintenance

I thought it would be a good idea to note of some of the things I learned during my week as Engine Room Assistant:


How to Start the Boat

  • check oil of all engines that'll be started
  • turn on steering pumps
  • fire up generator
  • switch power from starboard to center generator
  • turn starboard bow thruster on
  • fire up mains (port/starboard)
  • reset MSD


Arrival Engine Switch

  • turn off steering pumps
  • make sure port/starboard mains are off
  • check oil (hot) and turn on stbd generator
  • turn stbd bow thruster breaker off
  • switch power from center to stbd generator
  • turn off center generator
  • reset MSD


Fixing Central AC

  • it's all about the flow of water
  • clean strainers then bypass discharge
  • reset system
  • breakers in galley storage turn on/off H20 pumps


Fixing Toilets

  • test flush
  • plunge the crap out of it
  • check that it's refilling and chain is attached
  • make sure water hose is fully open and not clogged


Fixing Small AC Units

  • shop vac drip pan, air intake, and any water flow tubes
  • that's it, works 95% of the time


April 23rd, 2015

I spent the day wandering around Savannah, Georgia. What a sweet town! Grabbed lunch with an IPA at Moon Valley Brewing and took in the sunny day. I walked around and smelt fresh cut grass sitting on a bench in a town square. I also took a taxi to Target and American Cruise Lines paid for it because I picked up a couple ice buckets for them. It gets lonely being on the opposite schedule of everyone else though. The one downfall of being a deckhand on this ship is that usually all the other deckhands are working or sleeping. Would have been nice to have a partner in crime today.


April 30th, 2015

I think I need to go to Hawaii to start The Living Theory. Today I was offered to start further training with Mike (my friend and our ERA) next week. Then I'd take a two week break and boom, I'm an Engine Room Assistant. I enjoy this job. It's a great way to travel and get paid. However, if I don't start The Living Theory soon, I'll never try.

I was talking to the hotel manager and the words coming from my mouth seemed so stupid: “It'll be a good job. Good money. Hawaii will always be there.”

I was clearly attempting to justify a compromise. We have one life and little time. Gotta enjoy it now and do what's important to you.

May 2nd, 2015

There's only two weeks left until I'm done with my contract! My mind is starting to switch tracks from thinking about here on the water to being excited to return home. It doesn't help that I know I'll be skydiving, attending my younger brother's graduation party, and taking him to college all within the first couple days of my return. And going to Las Vegas for a couple nights with my best buds. So excited! I shouldn't waste two weeks of my life longing for the future, though. I have the 6am-6pm shift this week, which means I can go out a night with everyone—it's time to have some fun.

I decided that I'm going to Hawaii. I'm going to try and return to ACL after... Or become a deckhand on a private yacht in Fort Lauderdale. I HAVE TO launch The Living Theory or I'll always regret it. The conditions are perfect: Lots of adventures, Hawaii, and I'm going to be the national face of the biking portion of a Children's Miracle Network Fundraiser... It's time to make a leap of faith.


May 15th, 2015

Damn!!! I steered a friggin cruise ship right up next to The Statue of Liberty this morning and on to dock in Manhattan—the heart of New York City! It blew me away. I've never seen anything like this city. It's truly incredible what humans are capable of.

Three months ago, I had never done anything of significance on the water. Today I found myself navigating the Hudson River at the helm of a cruise ship, the New York City skyline out the front window. Unreal! You never know where life is going to take you.

I shared McDonald's with a homeless man today. His name was Kareem. He was pretty cool and didn't just talk at me like many in his situation. We had interesting, hilarious conversation. Alcohol can really fuck up people's lives.

New York City is one of a kind. I couldn't live in this concrete jungle for longer than a month or two, though. To be outside in New York City is to be in the bottom of giant cracks between high rising buildings. I need the horizon line to chase, or at least daydream about.


May 19th, 2015

It's my last shift aboard the Glory. I'm going to miss it. This private charter has been killer on us, so much underway time. But I've seen so much and had many breathtaking moments in these past twelve days. Four more hours at the helm, then I'm done. Whoa. Just requested my sea time letter and cleaned out my room.

On to do one last round and takeover the helm.

Do more than exist,