I have to admit I’m a bit of a tourist these days. My latest assignment has my boat trading between New Orleans and Florida. As I write this we’re waiting to get a loading berth in the NORCO terminal just above the Crescent City.
While I’ve been around tugs and tows my entire career I’ve never had the experience of seeing a Mississippi river tow built and then sailed by the massive towboats that navigate the lifeline of the mid-west. It’s busy work and takes a lot of blood and sweat to put together. It can take a day or two to build a “line tow” by small workhorse towboats that are in constant motion picking up, shifting and rafting up a fleet of 28 or more barges carrying anything from coal to grain to whatever. The towboats that move the finished tow are huge and wide with a good amount of horsepower in the engine room and the pilothouse.
Listening to these boats receiving their marching orders is interesting, the numbers and types of barges vary from boxes to rakes and keeping track of where they are placed and how they are delivered is complex but well understood. It reminds me of how my Dad used to get his orders moving railroad floats for the New York Central when I was a boy just riding along. The numbers of each unit are conveyed in a boatman’s shorthand, concise and exact.
The volume of traffic here is amazing. Ships, sea-going and river tows are everywhere. Huge cranes off-loading dry cargo, flotillas of barges are almost everywhere along the riverbank. The anchorages are along the river and tightly packed. Our anchorage here in Ama one of many. We set our anchor within a few dozen yards of the unit ahead of us and settle back. The river current is constant so we lay parallel with the bank. It’s a bit unsettling to be this close to the guy ahead of us and the one behind us, but the anchor holds and it’s kinda cozy.
The radio chatter is flavored with a bit of a patois and it’s amusing to hear some of the exchanges between the pilots and operators of the boats working here. Courteous and occasionally colorful these fellows use phrases that catch your attention. In a conversation between a couple of units this morning the dialog went something like this;”I’m up-bound approaching the turn, what would you like?” If you could hold up there I’ll be around here shortly”, “No problem cap, I can do anything but disappear.” You can be sure I’ll be using that one someday.
It’s not news to anyone that’s the least bit familiar with the western rivers that the “line tows” are massive floating collections of cargo larger and longer than any ship afloat. To listen to these units making their way is a study in “cool and calm”. When I encountered my first big guy, I was impressed with the way he seemed to manage his charges so effortlessly. I quickly recognized that these men were supremely gifted boat handlers and to underestimate them would be foolish.
For the time being, I’m going to enjoy the experience and absorb as much as I can from the mariners that work in this corner of the country. These people have a skill set that rivals any you might find in the Northeast.
During my first voyage here one of our river pilots came aboard to relieve his colleague who had met us at the entrance to the river eight hours earlier. As we shook hands and in a big voice he said “Cap, your day just got better”, better indeed.
More to come.
My first voyage to the Mississippi River was a fine fair weather trip around the Florida Keys and across the Gulf of Mexico. I shot a few pictures and learned a few things. More on that later. For now, some photos..
Thanks to a book recommended to me by Kennebec Captain and my time spent reading it, I have found the words to express my frustration with Zero Tolerance Safety Programs with a couple of quotes.
“This may in fact be the real story of human and societal improvement. We talk a lot about risk management a nice hygienic phrase. But in the end, risk is necessary. Things can and will go wrong. Yet some have a better capacity to prepare for the possibility, to limit the damage, and to sometimes even retrieve success from failure.”
“When things go wrong, there seem to be three main pitfalls to avoid, three ways to fail to rescue. You could choose a wrong plan, an inadequate plan, or no plan at all. Say you’re cooking and you inadvertently set a grease pan on fire. Throwing gasoline on the fire would be a completely wrong plan.
Trying to blow the fire out would be inadequate.
And ignoring it “Fire? What fire?”would be no plan at all.”
These quotes are not my own, they are from a book (linked above) and a commencement speech. I believe they illustrate perfectly what and how we should think about risk management as a practice. The message we frequently get from management is the same old saw; “zero incidents, accidents, errors”. While this has a nice ring to it and is a worthy goal, it’s not humanly possible and we know it.
Planning for failures that might occur however, is well within the realm of possibility. Evidence of this kind of real world thinking is represented by our Vessel Spill Response Plans, salvage plans, voyage plans, operations manuals and training curricula. These documents all articulate what to do “when” something happens or “if this happens, then”. They are general in nature since it’s impossible to prepare for every possible permutation of events and write a specific procedure for each. It’s left to our training and judgement after that.
High Reliability Organizations
A High Reliability Organization is one that while highly trained to avoid failure, is keenly aware of the cues that arise announcing an impending one. The thing that makes them so reliable is that they are prepared and mindful enough to catch a bad series of events while they’re still “curable”. But it’s not just their awareness, their resilience in the face of an event it’s how quickly they can get the situation under control and continue using the plans set in place for such an incident as a guide.
It’s not making a blanket statement of “incidents won’t happen because we don’t want them to”, it’s the real world. The message is clear to me, coupled with proven safety procedures we need to recognize that, and prepare for WHEN things to go wrong.
The business of towing is full of risk, it’s why tug boats have fenders. It’s a contact sport. A sign on the bulkhead stating zero, zero and zero isn’t telling me how to accomplish it. And you can bet Harry Potter’s magic wand is out of the question.
The ability to meet and assume that risk is tied to practical and relevant training standards. The conflict between zero incident safety programs and reality is that if we were to eliminate all risk, nothing would get done. Something in that statement seems to make some eyes glaze over and disconnect from the conversation.
“Ships are safe in the harbor, but ships are meant to go to sea.”.
Someone has to take risks to make things happen. Sailing across the ocean, space exploration, flying out of La Guardia Airport during bird migratory season. None of these things happened because risk was eliminated, it was addressed and planned for. If you think all risk can be eliminated and still see progress you’re kidding yourself. By seeking that end you’ll find that you are paralyzed by every threat, real or imagined and taking a step ahead will never happen..
This is a good piece of reference material for future safety meeting topics and just for general safety awareness. Thanks to gCaptain for forwarding the link.
”Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea–on, on–until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him.” — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
After a hurricane, an election, a Nor’easter and a nightmare we’re still hanging in there for the last gasps of 2012. The Mayans were wrong, some minister down in the Bible Belt was wrong (a couple of times) and now were preparing to leap from the fiscal cliff as soon as we croon the last notes of Auld Lang Syne.
Once again the schedule has me and my crew aboard for the holidays. Every other year we are aboard. We “swing the hitch” every year by putting in a three week hitch right around Thanksgiving that effectively reverses which holidays we’ll celebrate at home. We could do a week and a week, but the amount of traveling we’d have to put in at the busiest time of the year is prohibitive. Our crew change day is Thursday, and Thanksgiving (if you’ve been keeping track) is also and always a Thursday. We’ve looked at trying to swing the hitch at different times of the year but because of the Thursday crew change, it has to be around the Thanksgiving week. It doesn’t work any other time without forcing an additional disruption in time on and off.
It’s not difficult to put in three weeks, some guys work a three week rotation as a normal hitch, some work a lop-sided four weeks on and two weeks off. And some (I shudder) have no schedule, they work until they have to quit to get off the boat. Something that would make me consider an alternate career choice. Something like a chocolate chip brownie/cookie shop in Colorado next door to the local “smoke” shop maybe.
At any rate, I was home for Thanksgiving so that’s really enough for me. No running and driving and wrapping etc. And after three weeks of kicking back at home my Missus is sweet to say she ‘ll miss me when I go back to work. I’m almost certain she’ll breath a sigh of relief when she doesn’t have to deal with me bumping around the house messing up her “stuff”. She needs her alone time too.
The boys have got a beautiful prime rib dinner ready to go for tomorrow with enough pie and cookies to spike your insulin levels off the chart.
Operations continue as usual. We’re looking to be en route to Baltimore on Christmas day and so it goes…
The radios are chirping holiday greetings with each passing arrangement and we’ll be changing crew soon after the holiday. A few tugs are decorated with (illegal) holiday lights (shhh) and the harbor is still recovering from the hurricane’s impact.
My crew and I wish all a safe and warm holiday. May our next “trip around the sun” bring better days.
11/7/12 The fuel terminals are slowly opening up more berths for transferring gasoline and heating oil to barges. Limited function is available, vapor recovery is sporadic. Electrical power to pump to barges is extremely limited. Even though more berths are open, few in any are completely operational. It’s downright eerie that the terminals usually brightly lit are dark and spooky with a minimum of lighting available.
As the Nor’easter begins to settle in around us, we are safely and securely moored in Carteret waiting to begin loading. I think it’s safe to say we’ll be here for the duration of this weather event.
We took the long way around Staten Island from Bay Ridge Anchorage this morning and the destruction of the southeastern coast of Staten Island and the lower Arthur Kill was widespread and nearly total. Any exposed marinas were basically wiped away. Their storage yards had boats of all types scattered like a toddler’s toy box. So many boats were perched on the bones of the old piers that line the lower Kills above Perth Amboy. It looks as if they were skewered and up on pikes. Debris, oil sheens and mangled unrecognizable structures were visible all along the lower end. I don’t need to post pictures since you can’t escape the photo record on TV or any of the social media.
11/6/12 Very little refining capacity is in use, the suppliers are mainly relying on pipeline transfers from the Colonial and Buckeye pipelines and off-loading refined cargoes from ships at anchor here in the harbor. After laying at anchor since 0200 on the 3rd, we’re slated to get a loading berth tomorrow morning and commence taking on 105,000 barrels of gasoline for a New England delivery. We’ll be getting underway after things settle down and not before.
We’re waiting for things to open up with precious little hope that it will be any time soon. If the article below is any indication, it’s going to be a while before NY Harbor is moving much product at all.
Excerpts Re-posted without permission;
Phillips 66′s 238,000 barrel-per-day Bayway refinery in Linden, New Jersey, has already had its power restored, but a source familiar with plant operations told Reuters on Friday that the plant could be weeks away from restarting, due to heavy damage caused by salt-water flooding.
“A decision regarding when the refinery will be able to resume crude oil processing operations will be made once all assessments are complete,” the company said on its website on Saturday.
Phillips 66 said it had resumed fuel supplies “on a limited basis” from its Linden refined products terminal to wholesale customers late on Friday.
As of Friday, Hess Corp’s nearby 70,000-bpd plant in Port Reading, New Jersey, remained shut down. A company spokesman, Lorrie Hecker, did not report any change early on Saturday but said the company would give an update on operations later in the day.
Hess has used generator power to resume operating Port Reading’s truck rack, and marine operations there have resumed on a limited basis while an assessment of the factory is carried out.
State and federal authorities have been accelerating efforts to remedy fuel shortages. On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a waiver to the Jones Act, allowing foreign oil tankers from the Gulf of Mexico to enter Northeastern ports; Cuomo, New York’s Governor, waived tax regulations on tankers in New York harbor; the Department of Energy lent 2 million gallons of heating fuel from its strategic reserve to the military; the Environmental Protection Agency waived clean diesel requirements in New York City and Pennsylvania. An earlier clean diesel waiver was issued for New Jersey.
Colonial Pipeline, a key oil product supply line to the Northeast, has resumed shipments at 700,000 bpd, or near full capacity.
“Gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and home heating oil are being resupplied, but until customer terminals fully recover, it won’t be at the normal rates. Nevertheless, Colonial’s main pipeline into northern New Jersey is back at full operational capability, bringing nearly 30 million gallons of fuel a day to that region,” the company said on its website.
Buckeye Partners said on Friday its main terminal in Linden was reconnected to its power supply and fully operational by noon on Friday; and Magellan Midstream Partners restored full operations in Delaware and Connecticut.
Below is a list of refineries, fuel pipelines and ports impacted by the storm:
COMPANY PLANT CAPACITY (bpd) STATUS PBF Energy Delaware City, Delaware 190,000 Operations normal. PBF Energy Paulsboro, New Jersey 180,000 Operations normal. Hess Corp Port Reading, New Jersey 70,000 Shut down. Remained without power as of November 2. Truck racks and marine terminal operating on limited basis with generator power. Philadelphia Energy Solutions Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 330,000 Reduced rates. Both crude sections restarted at Point Breeze as of October 31. Company said on November 2 it would be back to normal schedules this weekend after delays in crude deliveries. Monroe Energy Trainer, Pennsylvania 185,000 Operated throughout storm. Back in full service as of November 1 though not at full rates due to maintenance overhaul. Phillips 66 Linden, New Jersey 238,000 Shut down. Could be weeks away from restarting due to heavy damage from salt-water flooding, source familiar said. Phillips 66 says power has been restored, but has not provided timeline for restart. Imperial Oil Ltd Sarnia, Ontario 121,000 Returning to normal service as of October 31 after power outage.
EIA REPORT ON STATUS OF TERMINALS
COMPANY LOCATION CAPACITY STATUS Colonial Pipeline Linden NJ Open 11/3/2012 Hess Groton CT 812,185 Shut 11/3/2012 IMTT Bayonne NJ 16,000,000 Shut; expected to reopen by next week-Macquarie 11/3/2012 Kinder Morgan Carteret NJ Seen ready to begin petroleum product movements in 24-48 hr 11/3/2012 Kinder Morgan Perth Amboy NJ 3,543,388 Seen ready to begin petroleum product movements in 24-48 hr 11/3/2012 Kinder Morgan Philadelphia PA 11,878,462 Open 11/3/2012 Kinder Morgan Staten Island NY 2,959,700 Seen ready to begin petroleum product movements in 24-48 hr 11/3/2012 Magellan Midstream Wilmington DE 2,842,000 Open 11/3/2012 Magellan Midstream New Haven CT 4,000,000 Open 11/3/2012 Motiva Bridgeport CT 1,290,000 Open with reduced operations 11/3/2012 Motiva Brooklyn NY Shut 11/3/2012 Motiva Long Island NY 222,000 Shut 11/3/2012 Motiva Newark NJ 1,113,000 Shut 11/3/2012 Motiva New Haven CT 1,600,000 Open 11/3/2012 Motiva Sewaren NJ 5,000,000 Shut 11/3/2012 Motiva Baltimore MD 1,100,000 Open 11/3/2012 Motiva Fairfax VA 360,000 Open 11/3/2012 Motiva Richmond VA 210,000 Open 11/3/2012 Motiva Providence RI 1,458,000 Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Paulsboro NJ 90,800 Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Linden NJ 2 of 8 truck bays open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Virginia Beach VA 40,000 Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Dumfries VA Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Piney Point MD 5,403,000 Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Andrews AFB MD Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Baltimore MD 832,000 Open 11/3/2012 Phillips 66 Riverhead NY Open 11/3/2012 Phillips 66 Tremley Point NJ Shut 11/3/2012 Hess Brooklyn, NY Expected to open soon 11/3/2012
FROM DOE: Global Partners Inwood NY Expected to Restart 11/2 11/3/12 Motiva Long Island NY Shut 11/3/12 Global Partners Newburgh NY Open, Expecting Deliveries 11/3 11/3/12 Global Partners Oyster Bay NY Open 11/3/12 Castle Port Morris Bronx NY Open 11/3/12 Gulf Oil New Haven CT Open 11/3/12 Schildwachter Oil Bronx NY Open 11/3/12 Hess Pennsauken NJ Open 11/3/12
OTHER TERMINALS IN NEW YORK HARBOR AREA
COMPANY LOCATION CAPACITY STATUS BP Products North America, Inc. New York, NY Harbor 53,000 Unknown BP Products North America, Inc. Carteret, NJ 1,445,000 Unknown Buckeye Terminals, LLC New Jersey, NY Harbor 4,000,000 Unknown Carbo Industries, Inc. Long Island, NY 5,900,000 Unknown Castle Port Morris Terminal New York, NY Harbor 846,000 Unknown Center Point Terminal Company New Jersey, NY Harbor 1,018,300 Unknown CITGO Petroleum Corp. Linden, NJ 3,669,250 Unknown Getty Terminals Corp. New Jersey, NY Harbor 1,018,300 Unknown Getty Terminals Corp. Bronx, NY 23,000 Unknown Global Companies, LLC Long Island, NY 104,200 Unknown Global Companies, LLC Long Island, NY 325,700 Unknown Gulf Oil, Limited Partnership Linden, NJ 568,374 Unknown Hess Corporation New York, NY Harbor 533,933 Shut Hess Corporation New York, NY Harbor 646,334 Shut Hess Corporation New Jersey, NY Harbor 5,961,000 Shut Hess Corporation New Jersey, NY Harbor 4,900 Shut Hess Corporation New Jersey, NY Harbor 579,619 Shut Hess Corporation New Jersey, NY Harbor 608,000 Shut Hess Corporation New Jersey, NY Harbor 1,689,000 Shut Kinder Morgan New York, NY Harbor 2,959,700 Unknown Kinder Morgan Liquids Terminals, LLC New Jersey, NY Harbor 7,542,619 Unknown Lorco Petroleum Services New Jersey, NY Harbor 476,190 Unknown Metro Terminals Corp. Brooklyn, NY 207,000 Unknown Motiva Enterprises, LLC New York, NY Harbor 50,000 Unknown Motiva Enterprises, LLC Long Island, NY 222,000 Shut NuStar Energy, LP New Jersey, NY Harbor 4,116,000 Unknown NuStar Energy, LP New Jersey, NY Harbor 340,000 Unknown Sprague Energy Corporation Long Island, NY 80,263 Unknown Sunoco Logistics Partners, LP New Jersey, NY Harbor 505,457 Unknown
PIPELINES, PORTS, TERMINALS, KEY POWER RESTARTS
* Colonial Pipeline, the 825,000-bpd conduit that ships fuel from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast, said it had restarted a large section of Line 3, its Northeast mainline that runs from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Linden, New Jersey, on Thursday. It also resumed deliveries at its key Linden junction to a connected Buckeye terminal.
“While Colonial’s pipelines and facilities were spared significant damage, many of the terminals in the Linden area will require days if not weeks to fully recover,” it said.
* Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, one of a handful of companies operating dozens of oil terminals and storage tanks that are critical links in the supply chain, said it should resume shipments from its New York and New Jersey terminals in the next day or two. Other operators have indicated they should be able to resume shipments as soon as power is restored.
* The storm damaged four diesel storage tanks at Motiva Enterprise’s terminal at Sewaren, New Jersey, and two of them leaked fuel into the Arthur Kill waterway, which separates Staten Island, New York, from New Jersey.
* Royal Dutch Shell said on Thursday that all of its New York borough terminals were still down. Its Shell-branded network was 84 percent open in Connecticut, 47 percent open in New Jersey, 62 percent open in New York and 83 percent open in Pennsylvania.
* NuStar Energy said on Wednesday that its Paulsboro, New Jersey, terminal was back in operation, but that damage assessment showed significant high-water damage to the marine and storage terminal. In Maryland, NuStar’s Piney Point, Andrews AFB and Baltimore terminals were all back in operation, the company said on its website. NuStar said its Virginia Beach terminal was back in operation, as was its Dumfries terminal, also in Virginia.
* Buckeye Partners said its main New York Harbor area terminal in Linden, New Jersey, had been reconnected to its power supply and was fully operational by noon on Friday. As of November 3, Buckeye has restarted all of its operations, according to DOE figures. The company is supplying jet fuel to the three airports in the New York City area.
* Hess Corp’s Port Reading terminal has used generators to resume truck rack operations, and marine operations have continued on a limited basis. Rack operations have also resumed at the company’s Bronx and Roseton, New York, terminals, but operations at the company’s other New York Harbor area terminals remain suspended due to flooding and power outages.
* Phillips 66′s Riverhead Terminal on Long Island has reopened and its Linden, New Jersey, terminal reopened at 2 p.m. on Friday.
(Reporting by Joshua Schneyer, Janet McGurty, Edward McAllister, Selam Gebrekidan and Jonathan Spicer in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)
I applied for my TWIC card renewal last week to take advantage of the “extended expiration date” price hoping that the bloody thing will die a quiet and ignoble death before I have to renew it AGAIN. Overall a very simple procedure. I didn’t have to drive anywhere and I paid with my credit card.
I’m happy to report I have already received my notice that the card is ready, AND in less than a week. I pick it up in a couple of days. Nice.
Call the TWIC Center at 1‐866‐347‐8942, Mon–Fri, 8AM to 10PM Eastern, hang on the phone for what feels like a week and a half and you’ll finally get hold of a really nice person who will actually do something for you!
I’m including the notice that was originally on the TWIC site (of course their site’s link is broken so I found it elsewhere). You’re welcome. TWIC Expiration Policy Bulletin 06-14-2012 530pm hg (2)
As a followup to this little note; After being notified by email that my new EED TWIC was ready to be picked up, I made my appointment in Elizabeth, N.J. on the TSA website. I showed up early, provided a fresh index fingerprint and pin, and I was out of the building in less than 15 minutes. Just like that, $60.00 and three more years added to my first expiration date.
So far, September has been kinda quiet. Except of course for the howling we can hear from folks trying to fill up their cars for an early leaf peeping tour at over $4.50 a gallon for gas (Still happy about that Land Rover’s mileage?). There’s a good reason why the prices are spiking right now. The suppliers are slowing their refining capacity for gasoline and ramping up their heating oil production to meet this winter’s anticipated demand. It’s their annual changeover kids!
Of course what that means to you and me is that we wait for gasoline to be made, sometimes for days. We end up sitting waiting for the product to become available. High demand, low supply….see what’s happening here? It’s not that they don’t have the means to make it, it’s that they aren’t making enough of it. Tugs and barges are lined up like Carter era motorists waiting for their turn at the pump. It’s not some evil plot, the changeover happens every year about this time. The difference is this year the prices are so freakin’ high YOU noticed.
So hang in there kids, the prices will come down. Not as much as you’d like, but they will come down. So, in order to ease the blow I’ve posted some photos of my local hangout here in Bay Ridge Anchorage. I know, not much comfort there but I didn’t tell you to buy that 12mpg SUV did I?
The industry continues to drag itself into the modern age when it comes to licensing and renewals for the certificates we all need. I recently read of a course offering that will save some money and make a radar renewal a bit more convenient, I hope.
Calhoon MEBA Engineering School has announced a program that will allow you to study online for your radar re-cert and then travel to a satellite exam center to test. As far as I know, it is available to all with payment, not just the MEBA membership. I have no direct knowledge of how well this works or doesn’t.
I just had a chance to look this over this morning and believe I may take advantage of this in 2014 when I’m up for renewal. Presently the quoted $235.00 price is reasonable when you factor in the ever dwindling amount of brick and mortar schools that offer this course in reach of most candidates. I know I’d rather avoid a five hour round trip to my nearest maritime academy for what amounts to a 10 question quiz.
We all know the one day radar renewal course is actually a practice session in the morning and an exam after lunch. You have to show up ready to test, you either pass or fail. If you fail you’re given a price for the extended renewal course and you’ll need to re-test at the end of that. Add three days plus expenses to the total.
The USCG REC’s do not offer the tests anymore and haven’t for quite a while. You’re forced to pay and attend an approved “school” and get your cert. The classes offered invariably run from the full five day soup-to-nuts class to variations of the renewal curriculum anywhere from one to three days. Add lodging, meals, gas and tolls and it can add up to a sizable chunk of change.
The online course touts its unfettered access to instructors and the benefit of studying online at your leisure. The course provides a nice radar emulator which does a good job of presenting a radar screen and target advance in real time. All the forms you’ll need for plotting are available and are shipped within a day of payment.
This is what sells the program; You then can schedule the test near your home using the Prometric Center Locator.
You make an appointment and can show up ready to test without feeling rushed or unprepared. Not everyone will have the benefit of a testing center inside of fifty miles, but a lot of us will. If nothing else, it’s an option.
To see if the offering will be convenient for you, check your proximity to a testing center , select “locate a test center” and select radar observer re-certification online. Select your location from the drop-down menu to find a test center.
Just thought it sounded like something worth checking into. Anyone with direct first hand knowledge is welcome to add what they feel is relevant.
You will find this link takes you to the AWO’s page and form for submitting this request to our representatives in Congress to direct the TSA to eliminate the “second trip” to the TWIC centers we all know and love. Take a minute and send in your opinion. It’ll do us some good, save fuel, and make the TSA a better agency. (choke) Just kidding on the last part….
Urban harbor/commercial waterway kayaking has become an issue and it’s not just me who’s noticing it these days. See this article in the W.S.J.
It’s been a couple of years since I was working on a conventional tug. I’ve been in the ATB world up to my eyeballs for the last eight years and I look at these temporary duty assignments with a mixed view. Although I love getting back to basics and exercising my skill sets, nothing grates on me worse than having my boat in the yard and me not being there to get the things I need done “my way”.
That said, I can’t worry about two boats at a time so the focus is presently on my current assignment, the tug Franklin Reinauer. So named for one of our late founding fathers and built for the company in 1980 or so. Not a large tug by today’s standards but still a little bulldog of a boat. She’s equipped with a nice little tow winch and a decent amount of horsepower. A five man crew and enough work to keep time flying by at a respectable rate. With quarters a lot tighter than those on the Nicole, she’s kinda tiny really but comfortable in a cozy kind of way. Really cozy once you get in the upper house, basically a box on a stick.
Not so long ago she was one of the coast boats. Making runs anywhere and everywhere towing up to 70,000 bbl barges.
The work is now mostly assist work with an occasional barge delivery in either Newtown Creek, Jamaica Bay or Sewaren NJ. We made a trip to each during my few days aboard with a surprise or two.
As a blogger for the last couple of years no one is happier to see when someone has subscribed to my blog. Everyone can agree with that statement. In the last few weeks, I’ve been “followed” and “subscribed to” by a clever fellow named…you guessed it “Someone”. Someone apparently believes he or she needs to remind me I’m being followed, frequently. Okay, duly noted.
10,000 comedians out of work and I get this guy. I mean, it was kinda’ funny the first 2 or 3 times. But really, a few more reminders and you’re a stalker. So, since I’m feeling a bit worn out from swinging on an anchor in the Gulf of Mexico for the last week I will acknowledge your devilishly clever humor and grant the attention you seek. Since Paul B isn’t feeling so hot (feel better Paul) why don’t you stalk Kennebec Captain for a while, he’s really a much better sport than me.
BTW Kurt, you’re welcome…. ; )
In spite of the many things that drive us to distraction when it comes to USCG policy letters sometimes the boys get it right. There was a small hitch in the A.I.S. regulations that proscribed tugs with tows ahead or alongside from indicating that distinction via their A.I.S. transponders. They were strictly limited to either being a light tug or towing in excess of 200 meters. Now the realities of A.T.B.s and hip tows have been recognized. The new code “22″ is for vessels pushing ahead and A.T.B.s. Up to now we (the A.T.B.fleet) had been broadcasting true “length overall” when underway and in due course received a letter telling us to cease and desist, well now we’re legal. Read on;
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Like many us I am working the holiday this year. It’s fortunate that the weather has cooperated and served up a crystal clear early morning and provided us with a sunny transit in Delaware Bay’s upper reaches and the C&D Canal’s meander. Nothing in particular stands out about the trip, it was just a picture perfect ride. I couldn’t not take the video.
My crew and I wish you all a healthy, happy holiday season. Wherever you may be spending it, enjoy.
Daylight and clear weather, the perfect combination for making a transit of Chelsea Creek in the last days of autumn. The remains of the old bridge at Chelsea Street are still an issue, very narrow and not yet gone. When the removal of the old bridge’s bones is completed, this will be a cakewalk. But for now, the Chief Mate gracefully completed an uneventful and slick passage of this tight and challenging draw. It was a pleasure to watch, maybe you’ll think so too..
Kinda sad really. The quintessential American icon got little if any press attention. No big parade of tall ships, no speeches of note. Just a beautiful display (presumably put on by the Grucci family, I’m not sure if it was their work).
The one thing that matters (to me anyway), I was there. 25 years ago I was there for her 100th. Doesn’t seem like it, but alas it’s true. Only difference was then I was towing the fireworks and got THE front row seat. Even better, my family was aboard for the night’s events and we won’t ever look at fireworks the same way.
I submit this little bit of video taken from a vantage afforded by my spot in Bay Ridge Anchorage that night and a new cell phone that shoots amazing video. (check out the difference in quality starting at marker 00:00:29)
Happy Birthday Lady Liberty, it was a grand.
This was my view from the pilothouse this morning as we approached Sandy Hook Channel after making a trip to points south this last week. A long voyage coming to a close after many long days at sea with little to do but steer a course and plot positions, one watch after another.
Our last voyage was from the Port of New York to Port Everglades Florida with the first leg completed in just over four days and kind of remarkable in that we had a surprisingly pleasant trip past Cape Hatteras both ways. The weather was rainy and stormy on our way “down the beach”, but the seas weren’t rough and the thunderstorms we witnessed were just freakin’ spectacular.
I never get tired of seeing a show of lightning that streaks light across miles of sky for as far as the eye can see on a horizon that is impossibly far away. The sky just seemed incredibly huge as we sailed down the coast. The atmosphere was clear enough that we could see stars above the thunderheads 40 miles away with bolts of lightning weaving and darting through massive formations. We had a lightning show every night from Port Everglades to Baltimore, awesome. I wish I had a proper camera to have taken pictures of what we were seeing at night.
Overall a voyage of nearly 2200 miles delivering to two ports along the way. First stop was Port Everglades, then on to Baltimore to complete the delivery of our cargo.
A round trip of 2200 nautical miles(roughly 2500 statute miles), about nine days underway time plugging away at an average of 10 knots(11.5 mph). It went from balmy temps to hot and steamy to raw and chilly in the span of a few days.
We sailed 14 degrees of latitude south and 7 or so degrees of longitude west and back again. We rode home on the eddies of the Gulf Stream in the bluest water you could imagine. (Think of a brand new pair of dark blue denim jeans, that color.) We covered the coast from Sandy Hook to Port Everglades then back up to and through the entire length of Chesapeake Bay, C&D Canal, Delaware Bay and then up the Jersey Coast to Staten Island where we now sit loading our next job for Providence Rhode Island. We sure do get around.
We were “incommunicado” for most of the trip due to our distance offshore. Our sat phone and sat-comm systems (reserved for company communications) were our only regular contact with shore-side for a good deal of our trip. But lacking cell phone service and (of course) internet was a pleasant respite from the “always connected” way of life. It gets quieter, nice. The points along the trip that have fringe coverage near Hatteras and Canaveral allow for a quick call home if you catch the right tower at just the right time. But mostly it’s a “no service” situation until you’ve closed on the beach near Jupiter Inlet or Palm Beach southbound and Chesapeake Entrance northbound..
A beautiful trip but a rare one as well. One doesn’t generally get a round trip past Hatteras with near flat seas both ways. I’m sure we’ll pay the piper somewhere down the line. Of that I am certain.
On September 11th 2011 I didn’t tune in for the network “memorials” to drag my soul through it all over again. It’s enough to have lived that day once.
I mourn the losses my friends and neighbors suffered and the harm it has done to my own family.
I am pissed that we’ve spent so much of our time and a trillion or more dollars so many thousands of miles from our shores chasing human garbage.
I am saddened by the losses our armed forces and their families continue to suffer in the name of National Security, I honor their sacrifices. I can’t thank them enough.
I remember when the towers were nearly complete. I watched from my hometown on Raritan Bay as they reached their apex. They were readily apparent on the horizon.
Later on as a young deckhand, I helped deliver the construction materials that would become Battery Park City.
I clearly remember the vista the observation deck afforded me, my wife and my young daughter that evening in October 1984 when it was so clear at dusk you could almost see forever. The city scape looked like a gilded scale model.
I was part of the Statue of Liberty 100th Anniversary Celebration in 1987 and had the duty of towing one of the many firework barges the Grucci Family had set up for an unbelieveable show. I’m spoiled on fireworks forever. I remember how during the show the reports from the shells echoed in and around the towers as we held station at the foot of the South Tower .
I remember where I was when the unimaginable occurred. My “where was I” story isn’t worth telling compared to so many others.
I’m still in awe of how the New York Maritime community was able to evacuate more than 500,000 people in about nine hours from lower Manhattan. It’s amazing how so many people were taken to safety in such a short time. (During WW2, the Dunkirk Boat lift took nine days to move over 338,000 troops from the coast of France.)
No I didn’t need to watch it happen again, I haven’t forgotten.
I recently received word from a former AB/Deckhand of mine that he is now the newest Captain in our fleet. He used the above header in a thank you note for my pushing him to go for his license. The ”kick in the ass” (as the phrase is coined) is the advice given someone with recognized talent to do what’s necessary to move up off the deck and into the pilothouse.
All of us, no matter how long we’ve been in the industry have been given (mostly unsolicited) advice on how we should either advance or abandon our ambitions. Some folks are suited for the work a tugboat demands and some are better off staying ashore and getting into the regular “nine to five” lifestyle. For those who adapt and excel at the job it’s not unusual for the older men to start encouraging, cajoling or insisting the deckhands with obvious talent “go for their license”. I was subject to this “kick in the ass” and have kicked a few myself.
Some guys procrastinate while others take the bull by the horns and get it done. The motivation for advancing is usually monetary, why work on a boat and not make the most money you can? You’re here anyway, you might as well pull down the big bucks. I’d like to think it’s more than the motivation of what collecting a few more “Benjamins” brings, I’d hope it’s also the sense of accomplishment that follows a determined effort to advance one’s career..
After hearing it enough, he did. He studied, passed, practiced and excelled. I had no doubt that he would. He’s one of those people who “get’s it”. After having him as my senior deckhand for so long I was glad to see him move on to bigger and better. I didn’t want to lose him as my senior guy on deck, but you gotta let’em go…
He put in his time as a tug mate on various tugs and was recommended for promotion by no less than three tug masters.
I have to say that I’ve taken a good deal of pride in the fact that I was part of his process. I have no doubt he’ll be kicking some ass of his own.
Congratulations Mike. To quote Michael Stipe of R.E.M., “Welcome to the deep end”.
As rough as a lot of folks had it with Irene, I was impressed with how well most of the metropolitan area O.E.M.’s had things under control. Well, as much control as you can have in a hurricane. The unprecedented shutdown of mass transit in NYC and the evacuations initiated in anticipation of this storm were well executed and laudable. So many times our elected officials are caught flat-footed when Mother Nature inflicts her wrath, thankfully we had the time to prepare and make amends for past mistakes.
We’re extremely fortunate that the storm was downgrading as it reached the tri-state area. A lot of low-lying areas suffered dramatic flooding and wind damage but our little anchorage was relatively quiet except for a couple of dragging anchors and a couple of close quarter situations when one vessel would swing into the circle of another.
The first indications of clearing began late in the afternoon and progressed to the point where we could get moving again after a long 4 days of waiting. This video is just a small sample of how it looks to us as the anchor comes up into the hawse and we turn southbound for our discharge port.
Some folks suffered little to no effect while others lost everything. The season for crazy weather is far from over, hopefully this will be the worst we see this year.
I’m just glad to be moving and grateful to see another day.
Condition Zulu; My morning watch starts dark, gray and windy. We’re anchored and holding well with 4 shots in the water. With the barometer at 983mb, temp 65f and heavy rain the winds are gusty but they’re not anywhere near hurricane strength right now. The TV news is calling for the worst of the storm to hit this area between now and 0800. I hope to be able to get some video of the eye’s approach, and that’s only if I don’t have more pressing concerns by then.
Why the Hell do newscasters think they need to stand out on a windswept street corner during a heavy weather event? It strikes me as being about as idiotic as you can get. Is the producer trying to get rid of their “meteorologists”? They’re standing in 40-50kn winds telling you not to try and stand in 40-50kn winds. I don’t wish them harm, but maybe if a billboard or two flew by their “perch”, maybe they’d get the message.
So far only one unit (that I know of) dragged last night in our little piece of the river. The tug and light barge got caught in a heavy gusting easterly and ended up against the bank under the Palisades. No blood, no foul…they were able to get free and head up to a spot up off Hastings, NY. As far as I know they’re anchored and holding. We’re at a respectable 23′ draft and don’t suffer the wind’s sheering effect as much. It’s good to be deep.
We’ve just about finished swinging to the incoming tide and the wind is howling a bit more often . I’m setting up my camera now so I don’t have to mess with it later, I’m hoping for some decent visibility. I’m also hoping my truck doesn’t end up floating away into the Kill Van Kull.
The barometer is starting to fall ever so slowly as the main rain bands approach my little piece of the river. We’ve slipped a little more anchor wire for a longer rode in anticipation of the forecasted easterlies.
We’re at 1005mb ( a drop of 3mb in the last hour) and 66f. Squalls are starting to come through with greater frequency. No heavy wind yet, easterly about 10-15kn..
Fog then rain then clear. More later.
Waiting for a gal named Irene. She’s got attitude and no mercy for anyone foolish enough to get in her way. Kinda like putting yourself between a crowd of shoppers and the front door of the Super Walmart on double coupon day.
Sitting and waiting isn’t too awful bad, here the calm before the storm. As she gets closer to the Greater New York Metropolitan area we’ll have increasing rain and wind that will make staying at anchor an interesting exercise. With the amount of wind we’re expecting we’ll have the maximum amount of anchor wire we can safely slip out and not allow ourselves to drag over the flats on the Jersey side or the wall on the Yonkers side.
We have a lot of company. At least a dozen tug and barge units are shoe-horned into the anchorage from the George Washington Bridge to Dobbs Ferry Landing. Not exactly inside the charted anchorage, but deep water and good holding ground. No one will be allowed in the NY Upper Bay or Gravesend Anchorages after this afternoon, all ships have been ordered to sea. The “Staying in Port” form for us has been filed and we’re one of dozens of units that have or will drop the hook in the Hudson from Yonkers to Albany to wait out the storm. Alas, my truck sits in Port Richmond and exposed to the predicted and imminent tidal surge. Sigh..
So we sit waiting.
I can’t resist a good photo op. I wanted to catch the sunset with the Verrazano Bridge in the frame when I noticed the Vane Brothers tug “Wye River” with his tow outbound for sea . I can’t decide which photo I like best just yet so I’m posting all three.
My last piece was generated from a rant I expressed in my pilothouse on my last trip down the East River heading for an anchorage in New York’s Bay Ridge Anchorage 21B. Generally, my postings originate as rants that are rendered raw and then tempered with a good bit of editing for language and content. I don’t just go off and shoot from the lip. Usually.
Of course, my professional perspective is what I draw on and my opinion is given full sway, it’s my blog after all. But since my last post I’ve had some feedback that puts a neat spin on the ultimate aim of the article. Education, for me as well as others.
A rather brave young woman decided to upbraid me for what she believed were insults to the Kayaking Community. She was right on the money on some points and I give credit where it’s due. She provided a couple of links I had not previously seen and found them to be really thoughtful and comprehensive in their advice on mixing recreational traffic with commercial vessels here in New York.
So in the interest of passing along the lesson of “you’re never too old to learn”, I wanted to recognize these organizations for working to make everyone safer in the pursuit of their particular vision of happiness.
The first one I’d like to share is one that includes enough information to rate as a must read for any recreational boater seeking to play on the waters of New York Harbor, or any busy waterway for that matter.
I Boat NY Harbor The content of this site warms this lil’ old tugboatman’s heart. It’s comprehensive, articulate and clear and I ‘m glad someone has thought to do such a thorough job. Kudos.
Safe Harbor.US Listing educational videos and notices of the events taking place in the harbor and good concise articles relating to interacting and avoiding close encounters with the behemoths that ply the waters of N.Y. Harbor. The video catalog alone is worth a click.
I think it bears mentioning that the State of New York doesn’t recognize paddled craft as “vessels” subject to the rules as we understand them, that’s a big WTF as far as I’m concerned. This story just boggles the mind.
Everyone on the water has to have an understanding as to their responsibility when they take to the water for any reason.
And for now I’ll close with a thank you for the comments I’ve received. Be safe.
Who’s the mental midgit that came up with the idea of kayak tours of the East River’s waterfront? There’s a growing trend of flotillas of multi-colored kayaks and canoes in all the wrong places in the recent past. Not long ago I read an article somewhere extolling the beauty of the New York skyline from a kayak and all I could think was, “Hey Jackass, that’s what the Circle Line boats are for”. Kayaks aren’t meant for a commercial waterway.
A quick Google search reveals quite a few sites for kayaking in the New York City area. I visited a few of these sites and saw little in the way of educating kayakers to the danger of playing in the midst of commercial traffic, although to their credit they do keep novices quarantined in protected coves or basins to start. These stalwart if misguided souls that venture into open water relate how awestruck they are by the experience of New York Harbor kayaking, but I don’t think they’ve given serious thought to the environment they’ve entered. We’re just a quaint backdrop to their vistas. Awestruck is what they will be when they’re caught in a back eddy off Hallet’s Point and I come around the corner in a full slide…but I don’t think the word can begin to describe the feeling they’ll have.
The sites I visited expressed no caveats or understanding of how dangerous we are to them. Yeah I get that the waterways are public, but do you really think that a ship is going to be able to wait for your pals to catch up to the group?
With kayaks paddling along in the East River, jet skis blasting by with more than two riders, water skiing on the sea plane approaches off 23rd St on the East River, NY., fishing in the channel, chasing tugboat wakes on jet skis, it’s going to get real ugly. It all adds up to a situation where recreational boaters end up in the midst of heavy commercial traffic and they just don’t get it.
So here it is, the 4th of July weekend and I’m watching kayaks paddling up the East River off the Brooklyn piers and along the ferry slips of Lower Manhattan as I make my way to Bay Ridge Anchorage. I mean really, kayaking on the East River! C’mon already, you’re so low to the water that you’re barely visible to traffic at half a mile. With no less than a dozen ferries and tows tossing wakes and flying by at a fair clip a disaster is only a matter of time. God help you when you’ve finally figured out why you made such good time up the river only to find yourself paddling you ass off against the current to get back to your expensive SUV before dark. Are you having fun now?
Every day during the recreational season boaters submit themselves to potentially fatal exposures and are completely oblivious to it. Thousands of pleasure seekers take to the water and expect their days to be just like the catalog pictures they perused before they bought their boat. Carefree and sunny days afloat without a care in the world, just bring enough sunscreen, granola bars and water. No concern for proper radio etiquette or the correct channel to call for a radio check…jeez if they even have a radio. Hell, most don’t understand a GPS unit enough to relay their position when they do get in trouble. Kayaks? They may have a flashlight or even a small strobe, riiiight….another bouncing glittering light lost in the city’s skyline.
There’s an urgent need to educate the recreational boater and identify the issues that commercial traffic faces in everyday operations and that information should be spread far and wide with notices of “no-play-zones” enforced to minimize the dangers the recreational community is up against by being on the water along with the commercial community.
I submit that these enterprises should at least make an effort to have their presence announced or perhaps provide some sort of radio equipped motor escort on their little jaunts. At least there would be someone to talk to.
For the life of me, I can’t seem to wrap my head around this kind of nonsense of playing in a commercial waterway, you might as well be playing hopscotch in the truck lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Here’s an offer, if you or your friends are part of this madness, drop me a line. I’d be willing to address the issue of education with your group (for carfare and lunch, gratuities will be accepted). You’ll be safer for it and so will I.
Tugboats or towboats (whatever you prefer), share the fact that they go bump. More than a little and most of the time. It’s dangerous work and always has been. That’s why they’re wrapped in rubber all the way around. The first time a new crew member steps on the boat we want to impress on them to be aware of their handholds at all times. “One hand for the boat, one hand for yourself”. You definitely have a responsibility for your own safety.
The bump can come at any time of the day or night, in any weather, fair or foul. Getting “waked” by a passing boat or a hard contact under the bow of a container ship or maybe laying up alongside a raft of barges, it always has the potential to be a substantial impact. Adding a little twist to that is the deckhand will usually be a couple to a few hundred feet away from the wheelhouse and may be out of our direct line of sight. A radio in one hand and the other holding on during the approach is the rule.
If you give the facts their due, all that rubber wrapped tonnage has to make contact with unwrapped tonnage to do its job. It’s our raison d’etre. Sometimes the bump is gentle, sometimes it’s hard enough to jar a few fillings loose. The “bell-ringer” happens frequently enough that it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Someone is always training, but it’s not just the novices that score a hit every now and then.
The boys working the decks of boats doing scow work are accustomed to the bump. Scows don’t get all that much TLC, they’re built for the banging around they get. They bump and grind more than Gypsy Rose Lee.
Ship work involves getting “up close and personal” with the walls of steel that seem to pull you in with their own special kind of gravity. We really don’t want to land hard on a ship, but….
Even though oil barges are built with substantial steel framing and double hulls, we try very hard to avoid banging them around. All that “explosiveness” should give one pause….not to mention the liability of opening one up anywhere.
Timing, weather and skill play a part in it all. But even the best boat handler’s have a hard bump now and again. It’s part of the job, tug boating is definitely a contact sport.
A deckhand has the primary risk to fall victim to a hard contact if he doesn’t have an eye on what’s happening and have a firm grip on something. The easiest way to go swimming (or worse) is to be approaching the berth and you’re on deck with your head up your ass dreaming of crew change, cold beer and warm women.
If you take the time to examine the way things happen it should come as no surprise that when you’re about to land alongside a couple of moored units they are not necessarily laying tightly packed together. There will be some slack in their lines, especially if the other units have been laid up for a tidal cycle or two.
Even though you’ve made the initial landing “eggshell safe”, once your first line is out and wrapped up the force of the tug working ahead or astern will now move ALL the barges until everything fetches up. Think “billiards”, one contacts another and so on until all the lines have taken up the strain.
It probably won’t be the initial contact that gets you, it’s the after shocks that are the killers. After some time aboard a tug and if you’ve really honed your “situational awareness”, you’ll learn that when two or more large steel boxes are in close proximity, there will be bumps (note the plural). The sometimes fatal mistake occurs when one forgets that simple fact.
In bad weather you’d probably (hopefully) have a keener awareness of how dangerous things are since footing becomes difficult in heavy snow or visibility is challenged in darkness, rain and wind. Work vests can restrict movement, safety glasses may be fogging and diesel exhaust will impair your vision, all good reasons to be cautious.
Fair weather dockings would seem to be of less concern, but you should be holding on anyway since you can be lured into that false sense of security by the balmy breeze and not notice how quickly the boat is closing with the berth.
Bumpity, bump, freakin’ bump.
I’ve been holding off posting because I’ve been kinda busy lately. My boat has been assigned a new run that transits the coast from New York to Fort Lauderdale, then to Baltimore via Chesapeake Bay and back to New York. The trip is just over twenty-one hundred sea miles and covers offshore and inland routes. The one thing that was surprising was how easy it became getting used to the absence of internet and phone contact. It’s not so great that I can’t speak to the Missus everyday (something I’ve really gotten used to) but it’s not too awful bad being away from civilization for a bit of time. We have a couple of communication blackouts on the way that last from one to two days at a time. The watch is busy and the time goes by.
It’s really a beautiful trip even though the weather can make things a bit interesting. In my career I have been working the New York Harbor and New England ports as far north as Bucksport Maine and south to Norfolk Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay and River. Lots of nice little runs that were just long enough. In the last three months I’ve been past Cape Hatteras 7 times. The last few months have been interesting in another way, I’m getting a taste of what my deep sea brethren experience, but on a much smaller scale.
We’re seeing how very alive the ocean is and have had quite a few “escorts” along the way. We’re seeing the US military conducting practice runs using all kinds of equipment and have been treated to a couple of high speed “fly-bys” courtesy of the US Navy.
We’ve been getting a taste of the Florida sun while the Northeast is still being gripped by the last gasps of winter. Of course there wasn’t really all that much basking going on to speak of, we’re under 200 gross tons and that means 6 hour watches are the rule. Work the watch, catch some sleep, work the watch again, every day. At the end of two weeks we’re ready to head for home. The round trip without delays amounts to about eleven days or so, delays can add a certain tension as crew change approaches.
We’ve been fortunate that the schedule hasn’t been upended all that much, but it evens out eventually. I don’t really worry about crew change until I can determine with some certainty that we’ll be local or not.
Trying to catch a connecting flight dragging a sea bag and brief case has taught me to travel lighter than I’m used to. A good backpack can carry everything I need without having to check a bag. If I have to go to a different vessel, I have enough to keep clothes on my back and brush my teeth for the duration.
By the way, we have a new system on board, “WxWorx on Water” by XM Radio. This little device connects via usb cable to the boat’s laptop and collects weather data from a satellite system that allows us to look at weather buoys and reports anywhere we wish. It takes the guesswork out of the coast run by giving us real time data along the route. Satellite photos, fronts, waves, wind, even what fish are being caught along the way. Nice. It’s not like a true weather fax, but it’ll do. I’d rather read the professional estimate of expected weather than to try to make a determination based on isobars and wind feathers alone. I’d recommend this system without reservation to anyone making extended voyages. The weather radar and buoy features alone make it worth the price.
That’s it for now, getting underway from Baltimore for New York, damn it’s chilly up here…..
I had the good fortune of traveling abroad just after the Thanksgiving Holiday to visit a place far, far away. Well not so far, only about 3,000 miles as the “Continental” crow flies.
The missus and I took a flight from Newark’s Liberty International and landed in Shannon, Ireland after a 6 ½ hour flight. Although a bit “jet-lagged”, my wife and I proceeded to engage in a perilous endeavor. I was driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time.
It wasn’t as daunting as I had imagined and with a couple of cups of airport coffee and a scone for good measure we set off to drive down into Cork County and settle in at our hotel in a village called Midleton.
Luckily, I had caught a bit of sleep on the plane and I was negotiating the roadways of the Emerald Isle without any real difficulty. The roundabouts were at first a challenge, but no more so than driving Rt. 95 on a weekend in Jersey. With the missus as my co-pilot we made the 3 hour trip to Midleton. We only made a few minor navigational errors and managed to arrive safely.
Prior to leaving on our holiday I had contacted the Port Commisioner’s office in Cork City through their website with the hopes of having a look at the tugs working in the second largest natural harbor in the world and maybe chat with my counterparts and compare notes. I received a reply from Captain Paul O’Regan inviting us to do just that. We made arrangements to stop in the Customs House in Cork City on the Monday following our arrival and have a chat and coffee. We met with Captain O’Regan and Captain Noel Fitzgerald of the VS Tug Gerry O’Sullivan.
In this day and age of Homeland Security precautions, TWIC cards and red tape, both my wife and me were invited to join the crew of the VS Tug Gerry O’Sullivan for their next tow on Wednesday. No ID cards, bloodwork or body cavity searches required.
A ship was due to arrive and discharge at the Conoco Phillips facility in Cobh Harbor (pronounced Cove) on the morning tide and we gladly accepted the invitation and kept in touch for the next day or so.
On Wednesday morning we arrived at the Cobh Heritage center and parked behind the gates. The master had yet to arrive and we were welcomed aboard and chatted with the Bos’n while we were awaiting the Captain’s arrival. Captain Fitzgerald showed up and gave us the “nickel tour”. A coffee, some introductions and then underway.
The crew consisted of the Master Noel Fitzgerald, Chief Engineer Panos Karousos, Bos’n Killian O’Brien and their wheelhouse trainee Gerry Moran.
With 4,000 bhp, clean modern lines and tight quarters, the Gerry O’Sullivan is a Voith-Schneider twin drive tractor tug, she is also a “day boat” . The crew spreads themselves among the work vessels that are under the control of the port. They could be assigned to any manner of work boat for their tours that might include drag operations to smooth the bottom, or maybe tend navigation buoys, to manning tugboats. Shore-side work is also in their job description. They are each a “Jack of all trades”. Their tours last two weeks on and off, they are on call as opposed to living on the boat. Trainees for the wheelhouse are on their own time until they are qualified and licensed to handle the boat. Not too different from the way we did it in the past. We call it “hamming”, or “ham and egging”.
The tow; To say it was impressive is an understatement, I’ve never experienced such a nimble boat.
(a VS tug in Antwerp, Demonstration This video is of a similar tug, there are some configuration differences but the maneuvering is the same. The fun stuff starts at the 12m30sec mark ).
We flanked away from the wharf and quickly turned within a boat length, the stern no more than one or two meters from the wall. The Gerry O’Sullivan easily turned on a dime and steadied so quickly it could have been on a track.
The G.O’s sea keeping quality wasn’t that much different from a conventional tug. As we approached the harbor entrance the ride was, let’s say, a bit lively. The tug isn’t really suited to coastal towing but then again their work is primarily ship docking. It handled the 2-3 meter swells well enough, it wasn’t uncomfortable considering.
As we met and escorted the ship from Roches Point Light, another tug was tethered to her stern to provide arresting capability in case of a steering casualty. The harbor is large but there is a tight entrance channel that requires a dead-on approach.
The pilot kept her neatly on the ranges and he had little traffic to worry about, only a naval vessel that was outbound for sea that met us when we cleared the narrows.
The docking was going to be conducted during the last hour of the incoming tide and as we approached, the G.O. approached the starboard bow and put up her working line. The method for assisting the ship with a tractor involves turning “stern to” the work. That is, we approached the starboard bow with the stern of the tug. This places the forward mounted drives in the best position for maneuvering during the job.
The line used for assist work is a heavy 9″ circ. samson braid hawser pennant attached to a smaller diameter but stronger synthetic main line on the drum. The deck gang on the ship has to winch it aboard mechanically. Once secured, we ride the ship until the pilot slows for the approach.
Of note is the way the tug will work alongside. The pilot orders the G.O. to back the bow, the tug backs away quickly and while doing so a substantial amount of hawser is deployed to the length of about 200′. This allows the tug to apply force without eating its own “dirty water” or better known as “quickwater”.
At first I thought the brake had failed until I realized the Bos’n was handling the controls. Deploying and retrieving the slack is handled by the Bos’n who takes up station alongside the helmsman after the line is sent up to the ship. Conventional tugs in the States don’t usually release that kind of slack when docking a ship. We tend to stay snugged up. Captain Fitzgerald explained that the added slack allows the tug to exert her force without overloading the line vertically, the longer lead gives the tug clean water to work in and ensures the line won’t let go from excessive downward force. Smart.
It all happens very quickly, when the pilot asks the tug to back, the drives are reversed , the throttles are increased and the brake on the drum is released so slack can be powered out at the speed of the tug’s sternway.
I didn’t anticipate how fast our helmsman (Gerry) would back away from the ship. With no lag time for clutches, (because there aren’t any)forward to astern happens in the blink of an eye. The change of thrust overcomes its former motion quickly. The Bos’n matches the speed of the winch with the tug’s motion and secures his brake as the throttles are reversed and sternway is reduced to “fetch” into the line. Once set, power is applied and the boat can swing whichever way is required to apply the necessary force to oblige the pilot’s request. When the pilot calls for “ahead easy” the tug closes its distance to the ship as the line is winched in as fast as it went out. In a flash we’re snugged up “stern-to” the ship and pushing her toward the berth.
It went as I expected, no fanfare, professional, boring. Just the way we like it. Our trip back to the dock was bright and sunny. We told tales and compared work. We discussed licensing and training. It seems tugboat men are the same all over, ribbing each other, tall tales and good humor. The men of the G.O. were just as curious about how we worked in the States as I was with their operation. A brilliant experience, I can’t thank the crew and Captains Fitzgerald and O’Regan enough.
I know, a tugboat ride on my vacation, one of the few times I wanted to be on a boat on my time off.
I wrote this as a story about a fun day and some detail of how these men work a V.S. tug. I didn’t intend nor do I wish to go into a deep analysis of how these boats work. I was aboard for one job, I can’t possibly know or do justice to the skills these men possess. I had a small glimpse of their professionalism, expertise, and good humor. Enjoy the photos.
The one thing your mother taught you when you were but a wee babe was your manners, saying your sorry even if you weren’t entirely at fault. This is probably the worst thing she could have drilled into your head if your chosen profession is of a sea-going nature.
The idea of proving and/or assigning blame is the one thing that keeps legions of Admiralty lawyers in business. Years ago, my father told me “never admit you’re wrong”(when it comes to this industry), I thought it was nuts but he couldn’t have been more right.
I read an article in Marine News magazine recently that was submitted by a Mr Randy O’Neill in the License Insurance industry. He wanted to drive home the point of how, as professionals, we need to show a heightened level of awareness in and around recreational boaters. Gee, ya’ think?
There isn’t enough detail included in the case he cites to really know what happened or how, but he relates a “near miss” involving a small pleasure boat and a tug and tow that was approaching a bridge.
In a nutshell: The tug and tow had to maneuver for the bridge in tight quarters and came in close proximity to the pleasure boat (which was anchored and fishing in the channel of course). The small boat was apparently in radio contact with the tug and tow and was warned to move, there was no collision.
After the “near miss” the small boat called and complained to the USCG. The tug’s captain heard the complaint being transmitted and tendered the small boat with an apology for the close call and went on his way. Good manners, but a bad move.
The USCG saw the apology as an admission of guilt and tried to suspend the tug master’s license for 9 months. No physical contact was made and no one got hurt but that didn’t stop the authorities from seeking an S and R hearing.
In the end the USCG wanted his head and got it. The apology was somehow seen as an admission of negligence. The idea that the tug master was trying to be a nice guy (thanks Mom) went to his being convicted of not hitting the little guy.
The USCG wanted to go after somebody and I’m guessing the tug captain was the only license they could get. The tug captain’s license was suspended for a month and he had six months probation tacked on for good measure. What kind of sanction did the little guy get for anchoring in the channel, as far as I can tell, nada.
I don’t have any more detail than that. The tug captain may have already had prior circumstances or encounters that made him a candidate for suspension, or the more likely scenario was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way, the suspension appears excessive since there wasn’t any clear reason (apparent in the story) to punish the professional except for the fact his was the only license on the river at the time. The moral of the story is a general cautionary tale but it’s oversimplified by the lack of details. Was the tug being reckless? Did the small boat get enough warning before the “close encounter”, I can’t say based on what I read.
This naturally brings me to the idea of license insurance. I did some reading on the gCaptain website and came across an article written by Mr. John Konrad that clearly states the pro’s of putting a policy to cover your license in your pocket. I’m convinced the idea is a good one.
The article is in two parts, written a short time ago and everyone should at least read for themselves what the man has to say.
The point in the end is that no matter the situation, admitting fault, offering a specific apology or any apology for that matter, will bite you on the ass. Even if nothing suffered any harm. Not just with the authorities, but with your insurer as well. Apologies, realistically speaking, equate with fault. Something we have to consider since our P&I guy wants to avoid public statements about details until things are examined and settled. Your license insurance representative will probably tell you the same thing, keep a tight lip and say; I want a lawyer.
My new page NYTUGMASTER VIDEOS has been added, let me know what you think..
A few years ago as my birthday was approaching, my wife got a call from a couple of friends suggesting we go for sushi to celebrate. It included checking out their newest acquisition, a new 20 something foot Bay Cruiser.
We had gone for a couple of cruises on their smaller boat in the past and it almost always involved a dark and scary “Saki fueled” ride back to their marina in unfamiliar waters (to me anyway). The evening was great fun for everyone except me. I was the default DD. I marveled at how my friend could so easily get himself trashed and then expect I would be okay with his “bringin’er home” in the dark. Being that I was a long time mariner and the only one with any kind of license, I knew I had to avoid exceeding the legal alcohol limit if I was to be aboard for any trip. Of course I had no choice but to convince him to let me act as his helmsman, I was always on the edge of my seat and paying close attention to where we were headed to and from. It was exhausting.
Expecting more of the same, the evening’s plans were quickly brought to a halt when I mentioned to my cute, well-meaning but apparently oblivious wife that it was my birthday. Two beats later she got it. It was my birthday and spending it on any boat was not my idea of a great time.
I hate boats…..let me repeat that, I hate boats.
Especially a boat that I don’t own but would still be held accountable for any reckless or dangerous behavior.
I wouldn’t own a boat if you bought it for me. I spend half my life on one, the other half is my time, boat free.
When crew change day arrives I forget about the boat as soon as I clear the gate. I usually decompress enough on the ride home to the point of walking in the house, kissing the wife and taking a shower. I put my head on my pillow and disappear for 2 or 3 blissful hours of silent uninterrupted sleep. Thereafter it’s dinner with my wife and an early bedtime.
My father, brother and many friends owned boats and found them endlessly relaxing, I just see the work. I also see that for every competent and careful boat owner, there are many more who think a six-pack and a set of keys are all that’s required for a good time. No consideration given to the fact they are venturing into a environment that has little patience for the careless.
Ask any professional mariner and they will affirm what I’m talking about. We are surrounded during the summer boating season with any number of small vessels. Sailboats, motor boats, jet skis and kayaks in and among commercial traffic. More than a few tend to be oblivious to the rules or common sense.
Everything recreational about boats is a mystery to me. I only see the work. Prep, painting, storage, maintenance and repair. All for a few hours of use during a season.
A captain I worked with many years ago was talking about his 36′ cruiser and I asked him what kind of money it took for him to store, maintain and finally run his boat for one season. The amount he came up with staggered me. I could have taken a Hawaiian vacation for two weeks at the Waikiki Hilton with what he expended for less than 40 hours of blissful boating.
I did a quick benefit analysis of cost vs. usage (out loud) and was summarily thrown out of the pilothouse.
As it is, you’d be hard-pressed to find me on a boat on my time off. Unless it’s a ferry or Dive boat, I have little use for them. And I can state categorically and without any doubt that I will never own one.
I’m sorry if I’ve offended any recreational boat owners with my opinions, but it is what it is. I’m not interested in your vintage sailboat, cabin cruiser, your new Jet Ski or for Christ’s sake your new fucking kayak. I’m on my time, please leave boats out of the conversation.
I am quite happy to see this new website come over the horizon. I’ve read and listened to Mr. Vittone’s articles and seminars for a while now and find that he is the man in the know when it comes to things involving water safety and awareness. Since he’s climbed into and out of more burning and sinking vessels than any of us, his words are especially welcome when it comes to filling in the blanks of our cold water survival knowledge or even just recognizing a drowning. Link this one, bookmark it, pass it along on your Facebook page. This one’s a keeper.
Looking forward to more good stuff from Mr. Vittone.
It’s a regular occurrence, we take the novices aboard and get them oriented. We show them the pointy end (the bow), the port side rail, the starboard side rail, and then the not so pointy end (the fantail) all the while extolling the virtues of remaining within those boundaries, no swimming without authorization if you please. We teach them the basic chores and how we want them done, and then try to imbue them with our knowledge and experience so that they too will eventually be equipped to think and act as a full share member of the team. We are keenly aware that until they’ve got some time under their belts we’ll need to coddle, cajole, and harangue some of these hopefuls in order to keep them from killing themselves or anyone else on our watch. The entire crew is involved.
One of the many questions asked by newcomers to the trade is; “What do I need to know right out of the gate?”. In an effort to clear up the mystery, here’s the first few things a new hire should commit to memory as he or she steps aboard the tug (or any work boat) for the first time.
The first thing you need to know is that working on a tugboat is a real job, you can’t fake the proficiency you’ll need to survive. The environment is dangerous and demanding. Learning on the job is traditional and training new hires is a common practice for us, we expect it to take some time.
We prefer that you have no experience at all, it’s easier for us if you have no bad habits that we’ll need to overcome. If you’ve been fortunate enough to graduate from an academy please keep in mind we don’t need to hear how smart you are, you’ll need to demonstrate your intelligence and learn what we teach you.
Please know that we won’t ask you to do anything that we ourselves haven’t done. We know how to get you up to speed and you’ll either learn to follow orders, or end up “back on the beach”. After that the next thing you’ll learn may well be when to say, “Ma’am, do you want fries with that?”. If you want the job, pay attention.
No one expects you (as a novice) to know what is expected when you step aboard a boat to work for the first time. If you’re lucky enough to have scored a job with a tugboat outfit, there are many things to be learned but, before you’ve stepped aboard the one thing you should have already mastered is your manners.
Report to the captain and show him your paperwork. Although the atmosphere on a tugboat is less formal than what you would find sailing “deep sea”, you would do well to remember that the Captain is not your buddy, pal, father, friend, or peer, he’s the Boss, be prepared to show him respect.
Listen carefully to what you’re told and find your room and bunk. Introduce yourself to your new shipmates.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that you should pay particular attention to practicing good hygiene habits. The tight living quarters on a tug are tough enough, we don’t need to put up with your funk. Flush and wipe the bowl if your aim is bad. Wipe out the sink, no one wants to see globs of your toothpaste floating around the drain or splattered on the mirror. Make sure you always clean up after yourself, learn how to change a toilet tissue roll, your Mama ain’t here.
Keep yourself and your work area clean and orderly, and before you handle any food whether you’re making a sandwich or starting dinner, wash your hands.
Find out what your responsibilities are in an emergency, check the Station Bill for your duty assignment during drills and emergency response. Learn and remember the location of all the emergency equipment on the boat, you’ll be expected to know how everything works in short order. Pay attention during the drills. You’ll be shown what everything is and what it’s called, your task is to memorize it so you understand what you’re being told.
You’ll be assigned a watch. Get out of bed when you’re called for the watch, don’t try to catch “just 5 more minutes”, we’re not your personal snooze alarm. You’re expected to show up a few minutes or so before you’re due on watch. Napping on watch is forbidden.You should be properly dressed, fed, sufficiently caffeinated, and ready to work.
Showing up prepared to work “properly equipped” means a deckhand should have a work knife in his pocket or on his belt and be wearing a good pair of work boots and gloves, sneakers don’t really cut it. During your first tour you should keep a list of the items you’ll need to fill out your gear for the next hitch. Like a better set of rain gear, boots, glove liners, etc.
If you don’t understand something, ask. Common sense (while not so common) is second only to showing respect for your shipmates and vessel. That includes pulling your weight and respecting the privacy of others. Like I said, good manners.
You are here to work, put the cell phone, Ipod, and laptop away until you are off watch. You aren’t here if you’re on the phone or whatever.
Practice, practice, practice your line-handling. The only way to become proficient is to take a lot of throws at bitts and cleats. Every deckhand breaks in the same way by throwing lines on the fantail. The exercise isn’t all that different from a hundred years ago, it’s a rite of passage for all of us. We’ve all done it and I can assure you it’s not about strength, it’s about technique and finesse. “It’s in the wrist”.
These are just a few of the things you’ll be expected to do once you step aboard. Remember, there are no stupid questions except for the one you didn’t ask.
You only get one chance at making a good first impression and if you show us you’re ready and willing to learn, we’ll be more than happy to teach you everything we know.
By the same token, if for one minute we get the idea you’re trying to blow smoke up our ass or just trying to get away with the least you can do, you’re done. Then we’ll find someone else who’d like to earn $45,000.00 per year + benefits to start, with no experience required. Comprende?