Archive for the ‘nostalgia’ Category

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 view from the Franklin’s upper house of the RTC 28’s notch…

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.

Surprise number one; It turns out is that Newtown Creek now has a community of sailboats moored along the creek’s crumbling bulkheads outside of the Pulaski Bridge, I can’t help but doubt they’re costing the boat owners anything in the way of dock fees.  It’s more than a bit amusing to me that it’s becoming a mecca for gypsy boat owners finding cheap wharfage for an expensive hobby.  I hate to see what might become of these opportunists when a windy day and breakaway scow have their way with their fiberglass hulls.  I can just imagine the splintering sound of hulls under the bow of a runaway 300 ton scrap scow.
Surprise number two; Who knew that scrap yards harbored statuary?  The picture of a few (recovered?) statues lining the wall of the reclamation center in Greenpoint.  Very artsy.  And finally, no real surprise to find that small vessels still insist on taking the same draw of the Jamaica Bay Subway Bridge as an inbound tow (with a fair tide).  Even if they’re law enforcement, some things never change.

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I expect to be back in the ATB world soon, until then I’m enjoying my little piece of regular tugboating immensely.  I especially liked nursing a light barge in push gear across Coney Island Channel this morning.  I had almost forgot what it was like “sweet-talking the tow” across the channel when a swell was running.  Good stuff.

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Photo by Capt. Jim Brucato

It’s said that the citizens of New York City reside in a place that is rich in a thousand ways.  The fortunes won and lost on Wall Street, the fame and fable of the East Village, the museums, parks and activity that never ends.  Of my favorite places in this city I include all of Little Italy and Chinatown.  Like Frankie said, “a city that never sleeps”.  But there is something about New York that seems forgotten, overlooked or ignored by many of her residents in the colder weather. Her status as a world class port.  It wasn’t too long ago that the city’s maritime connection was well known to its population, since they likely arrived by ship.  Nearly every immigrant family to arrive here since 1887 has had their first sight of the Statue of Liberty burned into their memory.

For nearly 400 years, ships of all kinds have moored along the banks of the Hudson and East Rivers and dropped anchor in the Upper Bay by the hundreds. Sailing ships, then steamers and yes tugs and barges from every corner of the world called here to pick up or deliver people and items from and to the farthest reaches of the planet.  But the terminals and wharves that once employed our grandfathers are now either in shambles or reinvented as recycled real estate.

The port has become all but invisible except for the behemoths that pass under the Verrazano Bridge or those that lay at anchor in view of the ferries running between Staten Island and lower Manhattan.  The port is “out of sight and out of mind”, it’s “somewhere in Jersey” now.  The visible port activity is considered quaint as opposed to critical commerce.

Docks along the Hudson River that were once bustling centers of trade are now home to the commuter ferries or fishing haunts that sit perched on the bones of the New York Central, Erie Lackawanna, and Lehigh Railroad dockyards of Weehawken, Hoboken and Jersey City. Terminals that once housed coffee or soap processing plants in Edgewater are now shopping malls and walking parks with few if any of the residents realizing what transpired beneath their feet only a couple of generations ago.  The Chelsea docks that were once the busiest in the city now house a recreation center and golf driving range. It’s easily acknowledged that the city is so transient that it’s residents tend to overlook its legacy as one of the greatest ports in the world.

But not everyone is oblivious to this city’s legacy. We can be thankful for the stalwart souls that pursue the quixotic endeavor of trying to save and/or showcase historic vessels and locations throughout the city.  The organizations at large (to name a few) include the good people restoring and maintaining the Tug Pegasus. This classic tug was, and still is a workhorse with a worthy pedigree. Captain Pamela Hepburn brought the Pegasus to life and put her to work for many years before putting together the means to restore this classic tug to its original self.  A true labor of love.  The “Peg” is now a regular at “tug musters” and gatherings concerning the Hudson River Societies seeking to preserve the Port’s history and educate the community with real working vessels and the people that run them.

The retired M/T Mary Whalen serves as the nexus of the Portside Project for Ms. Carolina Salguero and her group of volunteers to help bring awareness to the Port of New York’s Brooklyn Piers and surrounding facilities.  She has undertaken the task  to rehabilitate the Mary Whalen as close as possible to her original working configuration with a few changes to accommodate her new mission.  Her efforts to improve access and usability of the waterfront she has dubbed “the sixth borough” are a worthy endeavor that deserve support.  (Ms. Salguero has earned the respect of many in the port for her unflinching multi-media documentation of the events on 9/11/01.)

The Fireboat John J. Harvey is another gem that has been fighting off the ravages of time with dedicated volunteers to keep her afloat and in our minds. A recently published memoir by her latest engineer, Jessica Dulong, offers a definitive dialog of her participation in the Harvey’s restoration and operation.  The Harvey is a genuine working reminder of service vessels that have given above and beyond during their tenures in New York Harbor.  I recommend this book to anyone with a desire to glean a deeper understanding of the kind of people who have lived, worked, and endured serving the port.  Ms. Dulong has cited the contributions of the giants of history as well as the everyman in the Hudson River’s importance to all things New York.

The Old Mariner’s Home at Sailor’s Snug Harbor, Staten Island has transformed from its original retirement home for mariners to a world class museum that presents local lore and history in many forms that inform and applaud the Harbor that is New York.  It has featured our local towing community as a long term exhibit.  The Noble Maritime Collection, definitely worth a visit.

Soon the weather will be balmy and warm.  The harbor will fill with recreational boaters and tour boats.  Tugs and barges will continue their duties all the while dodging small craft and dressing themselves in a fresh coat of paint. The Circle Line boats will circumnavigate the island of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty is open for visitors as always. Fireworks will soon be showering the Statue and the East River will see dozens of wedding parties celebrating their big day.  Taking a decidedly different tack on the tour business is the group running Hidden Harbor Tours. They take a closer look at places the Circle Line Boats might not have a desire to visit.  The tours focus on smaller, less well known corners of the harbor.  A look at places most guidebooks don’t include, definitely for the hardcore urban tourist .

Cruise ships will make their conspicuous yet stately passages from the North River, Bayonne and Brooklyn waterfronts to sea.  The true spirit of the harbor will become a little more obvious as the summer heat moves everyone to the shoreline to catch a breeze.

Photo by Capt E.W. Brucato

In the years I’ve worked in and around the city, I’ve had the chance to witness the building and destruction of landmarks great and small.  Like many, as a teenager I watched the World Trade Center rise on the skyline, and as an adult I watched it crumble.  I was a deckhand when we were delivering sand and gravel for the foundations of Battery Park City.

photo by Donna M. Brucato 1987

I saw and participated in Op Sail 76, the Brooklyn Bridge Celebration of 1983, and the Statue of Liberty’s 100th birthday in 1987, that one easily beat all.  My boat was hired to tow the fireworks for the first time that night.  I had the good fortune to be able to host my family on the tug while the most impressive Grucci fireworks display I ever witnessed unfolded over our heads.  I’ll never forget how you could feel it in your chest as each report from the detonations echoed though the World Trade Center complex that night.  My 10 year old daughter was so frightened by the noise and paper from the exploded shells showering the boat that she hid in the pilothouse for the finale.  I haven’t seen a fireworks display that could hold a candle to that show since that night.

The activity is year-round and everywhere.   The vessels calling here are the most sophisticated transport systems afloat and carry an enormous amount of goods.  The tugs moving oil and building materials still do it the New York way, quietly and efficiently, with skill and flair. I’ve listed only a few of the fine organizations that serve this port by keeping its legacy alive.  Just thought I’d mention it…..in case you forgot.

A Buchanan tug off Constable Hook Bayonne c.1981

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Many of my friends and acquaintances wonder aloud at how I and my fellow mariners deal with the holidays while at sea.  It’s inconceivable to them that being away from home during the holidays is something we can accept.   To those of us who are at sea during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, the day is like any other except we can expect (or at least hope for) a large meal with the trimmings and a nice overtime addition to the paycheck.

Since I started in the early seventies, I’ve missed way more than half of the “big three”, much to the chagrin of my family and friends. For the past 54+ years it’s how it’s always been for me and my family.  My Dad was home or away, we seldom knew for certain whether he’d be home or not since work was the priority.  For my own little family, it’s been more of the same.

In 1980 I was a new mate with Exxon Shipping Company’s East Coast Branch and I was assigned to the Tug Exxon Pelham and Tow #1.  It was supposed to work out that I’d be home for that Christmas and be able to celebrate with my wife and 3 year old daughter, but a schedule change forced the cycle in the wrong direction.   I found myself on the tug waiting for orders in the Constable Hook Terminal in Bayonne NJ on Christmas Eve, far from home and more than a little blue.  Of course, it was snowing.

My wife was showing a brave face over the telephone, and luckily my daughter hadn’t a clue.  I walked back from the pay-phone and at the 1800 watch change the Captain walked in and asked how far away home was for me.  I was only about 80 miles away but it might as well have been 800.   I had only been working with this captain for a couple of hitches, but that day he proved to be a kind and decent man.  He promptly told me I should go home and spend the holiday with my family since we weren’t going anywhere for at least 2 days.  I was reluctant for about 10 minutes being the “new guy”, but he convinced me it would be okay, I agreed to take him up on his offer.  When I asked what I could do in return, he insisted that I should return the favor by doing the same for my mate somewhere down the road.   Captain Paul Lewis made an impression on me that endures today.  I have since returned his favor a couple of times with the same request that it was made of me all those years ago.

Me (look at the hair!), Richie Anderson, Capt Paul Lewis, Joe Rodowsky; Paul Lewis' and Richie Anderson's retirement party on the Pelham 1981

Being away is tough but it makes the coming home that much sweeter.  My wife always makes the holiday for us when I return and we celebrate regardless of the date.  It works out well for us, our friends after all these years understand and appreciate the situation.  It actually makes things a bit better when one doesn’t have to race from one set of relatives to another on the same day.  Too hectic.

The holidays are always considered and we make commitments based on our schedule.  We swing the hitch every year to spread the holidays out so everyone has a chance at least once every other year to have the “big three” at home.   In the past the hitch swing wasn’t all that common, but it has become part of the annual scheduling process for us on  the east coast.  Most of us anyway.

So as you raise a glass this holiday season remember someone is always at sea, 24/7/365.

Have a safe, healthy, and happy Holiday Season.

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Since long before the days of hand held radios and modern twin screw tugs, the deckhand has been responsible for the “first and last twenty feet” of the job.  This means that he was relied upon to give direction to the tug using a small police whistle or use hand signals to safely guide the operator away from or into the berth since visibility was almost always impaired by the tow.
This critical skill  frequently required an extended period of time on deck and it didn’t matter how cold, wet, wind-blown, or frozen the man was.  He stayed on deck until he was released by a toot on the peanut whistle or a wave from the wheelhouse.
However, the deckhand who faithfully and admirably stood by his station and performed his duties could be somewhat less than noble. On occasion he could be found cursing a blue streak for all he’s worth if things were taking too long in his opinion, especially if he was freezing or soaked to the skin.
“That dock-shy sonofabitch, I could have had this thing to the dock last week”, or one of my favorites, “My little sister could do a better job getting this thing to the dock!”. No one can hold a candle to a sailor once he’s hit his stride and cursing a blue streak, it’s a thing of beauty.
There was precious little generosity granted when things were taking a little longer than normal.  The wheelhouse was tasked with getting their charge to the dock safely and the deckhand needed to ensure that would happen.  So if the conditions were a little more difficult than usual, the level of “bitchin'” was sure to rise.  The epithets were hurled like a monkey’s fist on a heaving line away from and out of earshot of the wheelhouse.  It was somewhat cathartic and made a difficult task a little less painful, but no matter the circumstances the deckhand was there until it was done.
There wasn’t any (acceptable) vocabulary to relay one’s discontent to the wheelhouse since a whistle or hand signal was all that was used.  The job had to get done and if you weren’t properly dressed you could consider it a lesson for next time. We all learned to be keenly aware of “docking showers” since we’ve all suffered through that torrential downpour that occurs a mere 20 feet from the dock when there is no way in Hell you could leave the deck to get your rain gear.  You tough it out and hope that the engine room is warm enough to dry you boots for the next watch.

In any case I hold the belief that it’s a deckhand’s God-given right to bitch on deck with one huge caveat; don’t let the wheelhouse hear it, ever. The idea that one might flash a signal at the wheelhouse other than what was required was grounds for a quick trip to the dock, adding one’s name to the bottom of the hiring list at the Union hall, and then maybe extracting that size 12 from one’s bottom end.

It behooves me to admit that I too was guilty of this behavior. When I was decking, I had occasion to stand alone in 20-degree weather with a 15-knot breeze off the dock for over 45 minutes one fine winter’s day.   The old Rollins dock in Bayonne, NJ was falling down with exposed steel and splintered pilings, it wasn’t pretty and even less so when you had to land at the berth “in the blind”.  The captain made multiple attempts to land under my direction.   I gave him clear and proper whistle signals for what I knew was needed, and he was “blind” except for me. But over and again, he would back away from the berth just as I was close enough to get a line out and finally end my misery.  And so, like  many others before me I conjured all the foul thoughts and language I could muster and spewed that venom until the job was done.  I had little sympathy for his predicament.  I had safely guided him in such situations so many times before without a problem that his reluctance to let the barge get close enough was maddening.  When at last we were moored, I came back aboard nearly frostbitten on my nose, feet, and hands.  I spent an hour trying to warm up all the while cursing the man as my extremities thawed slowly in close proximity to the galley oil stove.

Some of the most creative and descriptive derogatory terms I’ve ever heard were from a damp, slightly chilled and weary tanker-man as he and I waited for the Mate to get us close enough to the dock to get a line out.  I stood witness as he revealed his uncanny knack for tearing an approach down to its parts and passing his judgment on the wheelman’s lack of talent.  Who knew a bargeman could wield such knowledge and expertise? Of course, it’s easy to criticize when you’re not at the wheel, or even a wheelhouse candidate. One of my favorite retorts was to tell the “resident docking master” that I’d be happy to relay his advice to the man at the wheel, or if he’d prefer, he could do it himself.  That offer was never accepted.
Commiseration is such a perfect word.  Barge captains, tanker-men and deckhands all share the misery of getting to the dock as Mother Nature rains down, blows, sleets, and snows upon them.  It’s a perfect environment of shared discomfort, everyone is equally miserable.  The scene is common throughout the industry, in any language, and any corner of the world.  The wheelhouse always takes too long to get it done if you ask the man out in the weather.

Docking the derrick "Century" in Newtown Creek winter 1985-86

Docking the derrick "Century" in Newtown Creek winter 1985-86 photo by bbrucato

The perspective changes, as it must, once you’re the man at the wheel.   You know it’s likely the deckhand is cursing your lack of skill, style of dress, and even your taste in women.  It’s entirely possible he’s calling your parent’s marital status into question as well.   But as long as he’s turned and facing the dock when he does it, we can allow him his misery and let him vent.  We did it ourselves not so long ago.  We all remember our time on deck and we’d like to think that we’ll do a better job of keeping everyone happy and get things done quickly and safely now that  it’s our turn at the wheel.  But sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.  Either way, it isn’t about keeping everyone happy. It’s about doing the job safely without hurting anybody or anything.

So, it’ll take as long as it takes, feel free to bitch away boys, just let me know when you’ve got a line out.

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The Elise Ann Connors, a bad day.

The difference between a sea story and a fairy tale is said to be that a fairy tale always starts with “Once upon a time”, and a sea story always begins with  “No really, this is no s**t”.  It’s no secret that fishermen are known to exaggerate just a bit when talking about the one that got away, the tugboatman is somewhat different in that although the story sounds too impossible to be true, in many cases it’s as true as a carpenter’s square.  

The urge to tell your story is an ancient impulse.  Our ancestors painted cave walls and tribal shamans spoke parables by firelight.  Most of these stories were not told merely to amaze, but to share the knowledge and wisdom needed to survive day to day.  The fact that  they were entertaining was a fringe benefit.  The lessons contained within the content of the story pointed to actions and reactions as they led to a conclusion, either successful or fatal, and there was always “the moral of the story” attached.  This can be said to exist  today as root cause analysisand fodder for “lessons learned”.

Storytelling on a tugboat serves as a valuable teaching aid to pilothouse hopefuls and veteran boat handlers have a wealth of stories regarding close calls and incidents to relate.  It’s a useful exercise considering these tales since it shows either how the event was survived in spite of the gravity of the predicament, or how and why it came to an ugly end.   We use these stories to reinforce the lesson and to drive home a point when the issue may not be as clear-cut as we’d like.  Teaching a guy how to approach a berth with certain prevailing circumstances is a dry exercise, color it with the “dark and stormy night” and it takes on meaning, especially if the next time the berth is approached, it’s dark and stormy.  Telling the tale of how Old Joe Tug messed up his approach and took out a pipeline  and walkway with the bow of the barge gives the advice a little more weight,  action/reaction.

Whenever Mother Nature, human nature, inertia, and great mass are combined, things are going to happen.  (Physics are a bitch.) That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t try to minimize equipment failure or operator error with well thought out maintenance plans or procedures,  it’s just that the odds are inescapable.  The more you do it, the more exposure you have.  And it’s not a matter of if it’ll happen, it’s when,  and you can be certain it will happen.

photographer unknown

photographer unknown

You can’t become a boatman unless you’ve dented a little steel or made a few splinters.  The sea stories serve as a teaching aid and by relating our experiences we can analyze the events leading up to the moment things went wrong and identify the “tell” in the future.  What follows after the dust has settled is the sea story.

Once you get a boatman talking about his “history”, the conversation gets  somewhat long-winded,  heavily laced with blue language, and descriptions that’ll seldom be politically correct.  It makes for a very entertaining and educational evening.  Some of my most vivid memories of my Dad and his friends are the backyard parties and the stories that would come out as the refreshments were consumed.  It wasn’t so much they were trying to top each other’s stories, but the more they told, the better they got.  It wasn’t until I had a few stories of my own to tell  that I realized they weren’t  really exaggerating all that much, the facts alone were amazing enough.  You couldn’t make this stuff up.

In the wake of a recent incident a fellow I work with became quite depressed. He had his first notable incident and  felt as though the event had marked him. He owned up to the error in judgment he made in trying something that was well above his pay grade and its subsequent failure.  The interviews and discussions after the fact had him at a loss.  This of course was our cue to cheer him up.  We related enough stories about things we did or survived that his issue quickly dimmed in comparison.  I think  afterwards he felt somewhat relieved but at the same time perhaps a little chagrined because his story wasn’t nearly as hairy as the ones we told.

In the general scheme of things it’s easy to understand that even seemingly mundane events  can be extremely expensive.   Some outfits recognize the reality of “Tow Biz” and will absorb these incidents as a cost of doing business but it’s not realistic to expect frequent damages to be tolerated if a trend seems to be forming.   A wheelhouse trainee has a very small number of reportable events in the bank when he starts steering, his mentor can mitigate some things by catching bad situations before they develop but the trainee is not always the perpetrator, it could be any of us.    The most skilled among us have plenty of stories to tell when it comes to mistakes, big and small.  You can’t claim to be a boat-handler who’s never had a damage, we know it’s not possible.  Tagging the side of a ship, shattering a dock stringer, crushing a railing along with properly denting a barge or hitting the wheel on some “unknown” underwater obstruction, and of course,  the classic “Bell ringer”* to name a few.   And if by chance you get two or more tugboat men together in a relaxed (ahem) social environment, the stories will raise the hair on the back of your neck, unless of course you have a story or two of your own.  In the natural course of events we hold these truths to be self evident, Shit happens.

The Poling #9  with her starboard bridge wing wiped off, mid 1980's

The Poling #9 with her starboard bridge wing wiped off, mid 1980's, photo by bbrucato

*[ A ” Bell Ringer” refers to when the tug makes a contact so hard it causes its own bell to ring from the impact.  Generally attributed to poor timing of the throttle. Usually there is  a time delay (4 to 8 seconds) that needs to clear before the engines can be reversed, mis-time it and one may not be able to slow or stop the boat in time, this is customarily followed by a red-faced apology to all concerned.

Every one of us has  a “bell ringer” story or two.  It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the wheelhouse or the engine room, everyone has a story to tell as Chief Engineer Bob Mattesson does here in a fine piece of writing from a tugboat engineer’s perspective . It illustrates error and redemption in a great story.]

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My Dad had a favorite little saying when it came to credentials, he told me; “Once you get your license , take it home and show your friends, your wife and your Mom.  Then walk into your bedroom and open the closet, reach in, and draw everything over to one side and nail it to the wall.  Then go and learn to steer a tugboat.”  My Dad’s advice aside, the idea of getting the ticket first and learning the practical boat-handling aspect of the job after wasn’t the customary industry practice on New York tugboats.  In the days before the *T.O.A.R. and Apprentice Steersman tickets arrived, most New York deckhands would spend plenty of time in the pilothouse while underway and hold the wheel for the old man as he wrote up his logs or went to make a sandwich.  The time was well spent since it was how we learned our way around a very busy place.  If the old man saw that you had your head on straight he’d let you steer to the next job, land a “light ” boat or make up to a barge.  Eventually you’d get to pilot one through “The Gate”.   And by then if you showed enough potential you were encouraged to sit for your ticket.  Once the license was in hand you were on the fast track to the wheelhouse and in line to get your *Mate’s job,  but before that could happen two or three captains had to “sign you off“.  With your license in hand you had a firm footing in the pilothouse as the “trainee” and were granted every reasonable opportunity to learn each skill as it presented itself.  As long as you showed up, you either you did it or watched as it was done and asked questions.  It was on your off watch and you learned to go for whole *hitches with little sleep if things were really busy.  The time would come when the work became more intuitive.  You weren’t struggling with the process and the finesse you witnessed from the old man was showing up in your work.  After that, the last and most challenging phase was entered.

Depending on the outfit, the Mate’s job didn’t happen unless  you had two to three signatures. Having  more than one captain signing off meant each was stating  they witnessed your boat handling and you had earned their confidence in your ability and more importantly,  they would take you as their mate.  The possibility you’d end up with any of the men who “signed you off” motivated them to really put you through your paces so they could feel confident in granting their signatures, it was the only way they’d be able to lay their head to a pillow while you were on watch on anyone’s boat.  The time spent in the wheelhouse  as a deckhand prepared you somewhat but proving yourself as a prospective mate was more demanding than you could have ever imagined.  You had to show you knew the job to more than one experienced boatman and there’s no faking that.  Your palms were supposed to sweat, you’d use some interesting body English and pray to everything holy that nothing would get damaged as you showed your stuff.  If you didn’t cut it there wasn’t any real shame in it, you just went back down on deck until you could show the old man what he needed to see.

If you were successful, you were promoted with precious little fanfare and given the back watch with the Captain’s strong admonition to “call me before you get into trouble”.   If you were really lucky the captain would assign the most experienced deckhand to your watch as well.  The A.B would be grumpy about holding your hand, but he wanted you to do well too.  It was his turn next after all.


Hell Gate Railroad Bridge “Westbound for the Battery” photo by Capt. J.T. Brucato

The idea you’d be allowed to move up and take the Mate’s job without proving your skills was and is unheard of.  Of the academy grads I met on tugs when I started, only a few of them managed to live up to the “a**hole-ring knocker” label that was bestowed on their misplaced superior attitude.  The know-it-alls had little if any on-deck experience and weren’t the least bit qualified to run the deck much less the tug, Third Mate Unlimited or not.  The time factor holds a great deal of relevance for measuring competence since the many facets of towing are seldom covered entirely in a short period of time.  It takes a few years to see everything a tugboat can do and learning how to make a tugboat do those things is not a simple task.  You certainly don’t step aboard and pull out Capt. George Reid’s book thinking it’s all you’ll need.

We see little of that “superior” attitude from the academy graduates these days.  The candidates coming out of the academies are stepping aboard ready to start on deck and learn the job from the bottom up.  I’m seeing a good attitude and decent academic background along with the desire to advance.   The industry is still working the “father-son” enlistment method, but we’re seeing a lot more academy graduates migrating into this part of the industry.  The shorter work cycles and reasonable pay are being seen as superior to the extended times away from home in the deep sea fleets.  The schedules for many fleets are equal time or close to it. and much more family friendly.  The caliber of personnel is gradually improving since the new stricter standards for security and safety have been in place.  It’s not my father’s world anymore.  The atmosphere of a drug and alcohol free environment has made it a safer place for us all.  I do see the need for amending the new licensing and experience requirements to prevent creating any more stumbling blocks, I just don’t want to see them “dumbed down” for expediency.

It’s no secret how difficult it’s been to attract talent to the industry.  There have been many different methods employed with some success, but our ranks may be too thin to gain significant headway against the attrition and eventual loss of the core group of experienced mariners at work today.  My peers and I will be mustering out of the industry in about 15 years.  The apprentices starting out now and in the next few years will be adapting to new technological challenges and some really fine designs for tugs and ship docking systems.  Hopefully the agencies setting policy will adapt with them.  The license structure and training related to these new designs will necessarily have to be modified to meet the new reality and not insist on an antiquated set of requirements for credentials.   How long it takes policy to catch up with reality will be the limiting factor.

The one thing that will remain unchanged is the fact that earning the right to be in a tugboat’s pilothouse will continue to require a candidate to prove his (or her) ability and demonstrate good judgment to more than one experienced examiner.  Getting the signatures assures the rest of us that you’re ready.

[On the Western Rivers you’re training to be a Pilot, in New York you’re training to be a Mate. They are the same job with a different local appellation.  In either case, you’re training  to become second in command on board.]

[*T.O.A.R; The Towing Officer’s Assessment Record is an extensive list of skills that must be performed for and signed off by a  “Designated Examiner” as testament that the skills have been satisfactorily demonstrated.  Without a completed T.O.A.R. a candidate cannot acquire his towing endorsement.  Without the endorsement, he can’t handle a tug without direct supervision.  A “Designated Examiner” is an experienced Towing Master that is registered with the U.S.C.G.’s National Maritime Center in W.Va. and signs off on the T.O.A.R. representing that the candidate has met the standard.]

[ *Hitch; the time aboard a tug is called the hitch, usually 2 to 3 weeks on with either equal time off or an unbalanced work schedule.  21 days on and 7 days off, 28 on – 14 off etc.]

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