Saturday, October 24, 2015

An Act of Piracy

Along with my recent promotion, I was also rewarded with a different boat in a different locale. No more sunny days with the sparkling blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. So it's back up to New York harbor and once again I'm working on a local harbor tug. Just in time for the cold northeast weather. Yippy. Now I have to buy pants. Pants! It's been shorts and t-shirts for years. I may even have to find a jacket.

It's a nice change from working on a tug and barge unit that essentially was just a small ship with a portable engine room. Now the work is more of what people would consider "traditional" tugboat work. It's the kind of work that brings me back to my roots. The type of stuff I've done on tugs since I started many years ago. It's fun. Everyday is something different. We do assist work. Move oil barges. Shift vacuum barges. Move construction equipment. Run crew changes for the other boats as they pass by. Provide fuel and water to the smaller barges. Standby other units as the tugs go to resupply, fuel, grub up, and take potable water. We do just about anything and everything.

One such task we found our self doing recently was running a crew member from a different tug back to the dock so that they could go grub shopping for their boat. It's a lot easier for our tug to be a waterborne taxi cab for them, than it is for them to leave their barge unattended. The other day we did such a task. And since we were standing by waiting for that tug's crew to come back for grub, we decided to go up and get some of the essentials that we needed as well. We go through a lot of eggs for some reason.

Arugula. Because it's fun to say. Arugula.
Our return from the grocery store was timed perfectly to coincide with the arrival of other tug's crew. We loaded up the grub onto the boat and off we went to deliver them back to their anchored vessel. Grub was transferred, pleasantries were exchanged, and off we went to go do our next job. It was only later that we noticed that some of the grub we had purchased was nowhere to be found on our tug. And it wasn't a bag full of things like canned peas, asparagus sprouts, or arugula. Those are the kind of things that we could probably live without. The bag that was missing was full of items that were IMPORTANT!

They took our bag full of Halloween candy!!!

Not cool.

Granted, it was a honest mistake. We went shopping at the same time and used the same grocery bags. When loading the grub onto the boat it was easily misplaced and simply went into the wrong pile of foodstuff.

And it wasn't that Candy Corn crap either!
However, when the other boat noticed that even though they had only bought two bags of Halloween candy, and they now miraculously had 8 bags of candy, we should have gotten a phone call with 10,000 apologies. Alas, it was not to be. Those pirates took our candy and went out of town so we couldn't even publicly shame them over the radio for all to hear that they were candy thieves.

We're not talking to them anymore. They can find someone else to run grub and crew changes for them. Canned vegetables are one thing. Halloween candy pilferage is a direct violation of the Law of the Sea.

I'm sure it is.

I'll have to look that up.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


At one time or another we have all lied. Whether they were just “little white lies”, a “wee bit of fibbery”, a “tiny bit of misdirection”, or as we in the maritime industry know them to be, “sea stories”. At one time or another we have all been on the wrong side of “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”.
Sadly, I have been living a lie for a number of years.

Of course, I feel as though I must explain.

As a whole, the general population knows jack-all about the maritime industry. With their information about boats gleaned from such reliable sources as Hollywood and television, it is easy to see why people just don’t understand what we do out here on the water at all. However, I too have been complicit in spreading disinformation to the masses about my job and the maritime world as a whole, all in the name of taking the path of least resistance.

Now the maritime industry runs counterclockwise to the rest of the world. In your house you have floors, walls, ceilings, a bathroom, bedroom, and a kitchen. But not out in the maritime fleet. Out there you have decks, bulkheads, overheads, heads, bunk rooms, and a galley. Left is port, right is starboard. You don’t go backwards, you go astern or aft. And if having different names for things on boats separate from the same things on land wait until you try to pronounce some things on boats the way they are spelled. Try telling a mariner that you are going to the “forecastle” just the way it is spelled and see if they don’t roll their eyes at you. (By the way: It’s pronounced “fohk-suh l”). Of course it doesn’t stop there.

Pilot Boat. Not steered by a Pilot.
In the regular world, a Pilot is the person who flies a plane. On ships, a Pilot is a seasoned mariner who has extensive knowledge of a local waterway and is hired by the vessel to provide their expertise in navigating a certain port or waterway. Easy, right? Not so much. There are different kinds of pilots. You have Bar Pilots, Federal Pilots, State Pilots, Docking Pilots, Harbor Pilots, River Pilots...etc. And it gets worse. If you work on a push boat, generally on the Inland Waterways/Mississippi River/Western Rivers, the person who steers the boat on the opposite watch as the Captain is called a Pilot. Same name, completely different job from a Pilot. Confused yet? Just wait.

River Push Boat. a.k.a Square boat. Steered by a Pilot.
Now I mention the Pilot on push boats to highlight just how frustrating titles in the maritime world can be.
The “Pilot” on push boats is usually called the “Mate” on harbor and ocean going tugs. Exact same job, completely different name. Sometimes on an ocean going tugs you also have a Second Mate. Then the Mate becomes a Chief Mate. Exact same job as the Mate, but slightly fancier title. Of course, even our own regulatory agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, has to get in to the act and confuse people even more. To them, the “Mate” sometimes isn’t called the Mate; they like to refer to them as the “Relief Captain”. Now, whether you call the guy the Mate, Pilot, Relief Captain, Chief Mate, or whatever other name you want to come up with, the fact remains, somebody has to work opposite of the Captain and steer the boat while the Captain is off watch.

Which is where the BIG LIE comes into play.

Where I currently live it isn’t really a hot bed location for maritime professionals to reside. Concurrently, the local population isn’t really up on their knowledge of the maritime industry. (To my local friends: Don’t feel as though I’m picking on you. When I lived in the northeast people didn’t know bupkis about the maritime industry either.) Naturally, when I meet new people and I (or more likely, my wife) tells them what I do for a living, I get the standard questions and answers.

“So you work on tugboats? So you push the big ships around?”
“You work in New York? New York is so cool! Where do you stay at night?”
“Where do you eat?”
“You drive the boat? So you’re the Captain?”

And there it is! That last question gets me to the BIG LIE.

I’ve been sailing as Mate (Chief Mate/Relief Captain…whatever) for more than a decade. I steer the boat when the Captain is off watch. To the inexperienced, the Captain drives the boat. “Hooper drives the boat, Chief”. (Jaws quote, I love that movie.) To try to tell someone who knows nothing about the Merchant Marine that, “Yes. I drive the boat. But, no. I’m not the Captain”, just leads to confusion. To them, it is usually cut and dry. The Captain drives the boat. End of story. Never mind the fact that at some point the Captain has to sleep. When they ask, “What do you do at night?” it’s usually a pretty good sign that they don’t realize that we work 24/7/365. We work, live, eat, sleep, everything aboard the boat. To try to explain to them exactly what we do so that they have a full grasp of my work life…well, no one has that kind of time. So, in order to avoid a lengthy discussion detailing exactly what I do, sometimes I take the easy way out.

“Yes. I’m the Captain.”


Except now I don’t have to lie anymore.

After many long years.
And many different companies.
And after working for many great Captains.
I can finally say, without lying to anyone…

“YES! I’m the Captain!”

And to be honest, it feels pretty damn good!!!
Because my wife is AWESOME! and a huge nerd. She got me this shirt.