“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has
taken place.”-- George Bernard Shaw
They say one of the keys to a good
marriage is communication. The same can be said for a good relief on a tugboat.
An example of poor communication would be our latest crew change debacle.
Show up for crew change!
The Captain woke me up from my
evening nap at 9 PM. A mere 3 hours before we were supposed to get off the
boat. An optimist might have thought, “Sweet! The guys are here early and we
get to go home a bit ahead of schedule.” The pessimist/realist in me knew
immediately that this was NOT to be the case. The ONLY reason someone wakes you
up off watch early is that something has gone horribly wrong. This case was no
exception. “Your relief is stuck in New York. His flight to Chicago was
cancelled (pay no attention to the fact that we were in Houston). He’s not
This is where the communication part
comes in to play.
Did my relief call me? Send me a text
message? Call the boat? Send out smoke signals? Use Semaphore flags (because
it’s nautical)? Send a note by Passenger
pigeon? Anything like that?
We found out from one of the other on
coming crew members. He texted a member of our crew, who told our Captain, who
woke me up, and then told me. It’s kind of like the “Degrees of Kevin Bacon”
but much more annoying.
So he’s not coming in. Fantastic.
It’s happened before. It’s not like I had a ton of things to do on my time off.
Except I did.
But it gets better.
The Chief Engineer got the same news.
His relief wasn’t coming in either. His relief at least called him. Misery
If you work on a tugboat you always
have a Plan B (and C, D, E…etc.) Whether it is a plan to get into, or out of, a
berth, a plan to deal with other maritime traffic, or a plan to deal with a
screwed up crew change. So the Chief and I started working on ‘Crew Change-
As of late, our usual schedule was a
quick one day run between our load and discharge ports. So even if we had to crew
change a day late (even though it’s a pain in the ass) it still isn’t too bad.
The problem this time being was that this wasn’t going to be our normal run.
This particular load was going to be headed for the Mississippi River. This
would almost triple the amount of time that it would normally take. Our one
glimmer of hope, our one chance to get off, still late, but not ridiculously
late, would be to crew change by launch boat as we passed by Galveston on our
way out of Houston.
We were supposed to leave the dock at
0500 and would be near the launch at 1100. This would give the guys coming in plenty
of time to catch the first flight out to Houston and catch a van down to the
launch. A Friday noon time crew change sure would beat a Sunday night crew
change. All it would take would be a little bit of communication between the
nice lady from our office scheduling the flights, the guys coming in, and the
boat. We could definitely make this happen. However, at this point, no one from
the office seemed to know that there was not only one guy missing, but two. So
the office didn’t want to pay the money to crew change one guy (two) by launch
Then we got delayed leaving the dock
until 0700. How was the piece of information communicated to me? Not from the dock,
the agent, the office, or the pilots, but by my Captain, who was sitting at the
airport, waiting to go home. So we really ended up passing by the launch
service at 1300. This was MORE than enough time for the guys coming in to be
able to meet up with us.
I then knew I was going to have to
spend the next few days with "The person who shall not be named" and “Cupcake”.
I’ve been happier.
As we were passing by Galveston (and
our last hopes of getting off the boat) I was talking on the phone to the nice
lady in the office who arranges our flights. She asked me when I wanted to crew
change once we got to The River. I mentioned that we wouldn’t be to the dock
until early Sunday afternoon at the earliest and that I would rather work until
our regular crew change time of midnight so we would at least get paid for the
day. She agreed that that made sense and to have TPWSNBN to call her the next
day to confirm our ETA and make sure that it was what we were going to do. But
he didn’t call. Something I found out the next day when I sent a message to the
office asking if crew change was set up and the office replied with, “What crew
Instead, she had waited as long as
she could, but ultimately had to book the flights for the guys coming in for
first thing in the morning instead of later in the day. Because of this, we got
to work for more than half the day and yet we don’t get paid for any of it. In
essence, the Chief and I get punished by having to stay on the boat and work
over extra days. Then get punished again by not getting paid for the last day. I’ve
been told previously “that it all evens out”. Except that it doesn’t. Over the
last year and a half, my relief hasn’t shown up on three different occasions. Over
the course of my career I have NEVER missed a crew change. It’s getting old.
Now remember how the office didn’t
want to pay for a launch boat over in Texas a few days ago? Can you guess how
we changed crew now that we are over in the Mississippi River? Did you say
‘launch boat’? I knew you would. And you would be correct.
Now here comes the real kicker.
When my seriously delinquent relief
put his bags in our room he noticed that I was taking home my DirecTV box. After
I explained to him my reasoning for taking the box home, he replied, “Well you
could have called and told me.”
I could have called and told you?
It was at that very moment I should
have communicated my true feelings towards him. But, for one of the few times in
my life, I was totally at a loss for words. Had I been able to compose myself, there
is no doubt that it would have been riddled with very unsavory language.
I am currently half a nation away from the events in Boston.
Although distance prevents me from physically being there to lend a helping
hand, my thoughts go out to all of those affected by the cowardice that was
perpetrated yesterday at the Boston Marathon.
I was born and raised in coastal New Hampshire.
the nearest “Big” City to us.
I grew up watching Boston Bruins hockey.
Cheering Larry Bird, DJ, Danny Ainge, and The Chief winning
multiple World Championships for the Celtics.
I was heart-broken
time and time again by the Red Sox.
I vividly remember “Squish the Fish” and “The Superbowl
I relished in the accomplishments and the winning of multiple World
Titles by the Patriots.
I graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy
Cape Cod College of Nautical Knowledge.
I learned how to drive and navigate the streets of Boston in
my teens and early twenties (and survived).
I dated a girl who lived in the Boston suburb of Roxbury
(What the hell do you want to go to Roxbury for? - SNL skit, Google it)
I applied to be a Boston firefighter and aced the test with
a perfect score.
My wife lived in Lawrence, MA.
I still have countless friends and family in and around the
I’m a New Englander through and through.
Which is why my heart breaks even more so for all those affected by the terror attack
But New Englanders are, by definition, resilient.
They are some of the hardiest people you will ever meet, but
at the same time some of the most caring.
There is no doubt that Boston will recover. There is no
doubt that there will be a Boston Marathon next year. There is no doubt that
Boston will come back bigger, better, and stronger. It’s what people in Boston
But for now take a moment to reflect, hug your kids, donate blood
to the Red Cross, or just say a prayer.