Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tugboating Top Tips

Memorial Day. The “Unofficial” Start to Summer.
Pay no attention to all of that “remembering our nation’s fallen warriors” stuff. 

It’s time to get the hamburgers and hot dogs a grillin’, get all boozed up, and head out on the water in that boat that you haven’t even looked at since last October. Woo!
For us, the “Unofficial” start to WAFI and MAFI season is more like it. Interestingly enough, this week (May 20th to the 26th) is also called National Safe Boating Week. I submit that it should be renamed “Idiots with More Money Than Brains” week. It’s catchy. Not surprisingly, this weekend there was no shortage of a complete lack of nautical knowledge to be found.
Stupid hurts. And is a bit expensive.
So in an attempt to spread some nautical tid-bits of seafaring knowledge with the masses, I present to you: Tugboating Top Tips for the Woefully Unprepared Seasonal Boater (abridged version).

Tip #1: Radio Checks.
Stop it. Just stop it. Especially on VHF Channel 16! All summer long Channel 16 is clogged up with weekend warriors and their “Radio Check, Radio Check”. And all summer long the watchstanders at U.S. Coast Guard stations all over the country reply with “Radio Checks are conducted on VHF Channel Zero-Nine”. I get it. You haven’t even though about doing any maintenance on your boat since you put it away last fall. I’m sure the squirrels have had a glorious time nibbling on you radio wires in the dead of winter. But a simple check of your equipment shouldn’t have to be broadcast to the entirety of the nautical world on the one channel that is designated as an emergency hailing frequency. So cut it out!
It's okay. You can switch channels.

Tip #2: More Radio Stuff.
Here is another VHF Radio Top Tip. If you are trying to contact a commercial vessel on VHF Channel 16 (and this is especially important in the New York Harbor area and major ports with a Vessel Traffic Control system), don’t be too surprised if no one on that commercial vessel is listening. Now, stick with me for a second, as I’m sure some of you are confused. Most people assume that everyone is listening on Channel 16 all of the time, as well you should. It’s in The Rules. Here’s the legal stuff:

In general, any vessel equipped with a VHF marine radiotelephone (whether voluntarily or required to) must maintain a watch on channel 16 (156.800 MHz) whenever the radiotelephone is not being used to communicate. (FCC 47 CFR §§ 80.148, 80.310)

So there it is. Except when it’s not. More legal stuff:

In addition, every [commercial] power-driven vessel … (condensed to take out some legal mumbo-jumbo) must also maintain a watch on channel 13 (156.650 MHz) --channel 67 (156.375 MHz) if operating on the lower Mississippi River-- ; …(more condensing) These vessels must also maintain a watch on the designated Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) frequency, in lieu of maintaining watch on channel 16, while transiting within a VTS area. (See 33 CFR §§ 2.36, 26, and 161; 47 CFR §§ 80.148, 80.308-309)

So there you go. Simple, right? Here is the gist of it:

Commercial vessels are listening in on VHF channel 13 ALL OF THE TIME (channel 67 on the Miss. River). So if you need to get ahold of a commercial vessel, take a second and switch from channel 16 to 13 and hail them on that channel. Your chances of success on reaching said vessel on 13 are much better than calling on channel 16.

Case in point. In my wheelhouse I have 4 mounted VHF radios and a portable VHF radio at my disposal. While operating in a Vessel Traffic area, I have one radio monitoring Vessel Traffic, a second radio always tuned to channel 13 to monitor and communicate with any concerned vessel traffic, a third radio monitoring my company’s “house channel”, and the fourth radio monitoring our vessel’s “working channel”. Listening in on four different radio frequencies is a handful. At times, to help to try to limit “information overload” radios #3 and 4 might get turned down, or turned off. Based on the amount of radio chatter, you sometimes need to prioritize which radio channels need to be monitored. Channel 13 and the Vessel Traffic channels are at the top of the list. To add on monitoring channel 16 in a busy harbor just adds to the confusion. Hence, the “in lieu” provision in the above legalese.

So, to sum up the last couple of paragraphs of long winded babbling and to make this as simple and easy as possible:

Call commercial vessels on channel 13. There, easy.

Sidebar: Out to sea, chances are pretty good that you will be able to get a commercial vessel on channel 16, just don’t expect the same results in the harbor.
Mariner Multi-tasking.

Tip #3: Navigation Lights.
Squirrels like navigation light wires just as much as they like marine VHF radio wires. So before you head out in “Druken Engineer” (name of an actual boat I heard calling the USCG for assistance) for the first time this year, check to make sure your navigation lights work. Last weekend I heard a boat call a tug who was making up to their barge mid-stream say they were hard to see because their sidelights were burned out. Not smart. Also, not smart is displaying the incorrect navigation lights. I already dislike sailboats. What makes me dislike them even more is when some salty sailboat captain decides the way to best be seen is to put on not only one set of running lights, but two! Here is a nice little diagram that highlights what I’m talking about.
Please note the “EITHER” in reference to the running lights in the first picture. It means you can display ONE or THE OTHER. Not both! Don't be "That Guy".

Tip #4: Power driven vs. Under sail.
Since I’m already ripping on sailboats, and since pictures are worth a thousand words. Let me end with this flurry of pictures. See if you can spot the subtle differences between a sailboat and a power driven vessel. The Rules of the Road concerning these two types of vessels are quite different.

Not a sailboat. Power boat.

Power boat with a big aluminum lightning rod attached. Not a sailboat.

So there you go. Four simple Top Tips to help make your summer boating experience a bit more fun and a bit safer. But hopefully safer. Because if you're safer, that makes me safer. And I'm all for that.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Broken Record

As a General Rule, I like to try and keep this blog relatively upbeat and light hearted. Funny little stories intertwined with doses of moments of sheer terror. Essentially, a carbon copy of life aboard a tugboat.

Alas, on occasion over the last few years I have had to pen my thoughts regarding the loss of friends, mentors, and coworkers. An unfortunate reality of life.

Featured in some of those "funny little stories" was my deckhand, who the crew had nicknamed "Mongo".
Mongo fish!
Mongo came over to my company a few years ago from another tugboat company. He had just gone through a condensed, accelerated school to get his steering license and was striving to get a Mate's position. While he was training to fine tune his boat handling skills, he was also my deckhand.

During the time we worked together, Mongo was always the center of attention. If he wasn't, he was trying to be. Mongo was a big dude. But it wasn't always his physical stature that was the focal point. Case in point, at some time during his wheelhouse training with us, a stuffed, fluffy unicorn that lit up and played music appeared in the wheelhouse. Mongo was definitely a little kid, trapped in a big body.
Mongo about to give an improvised beating to keep morale up.

His personality is of course highlighted by this story from around Christmas time a few years ago. If you haven't read it, please take the time in order to get just a little bit of insight into who Mongo was.

Mongo was also a motorcyclist through and through. Crew changes were always an interesting sight. Whenever he wasn't dressed like this...
You could definitely find him dressed in a leather motorcycle jacket, his wallet on a chain, and more skull rings and jewelry than any one person should be allowed to wear at any one time.

He was a perfectionist. A hard worker. He was a bit quirky at times. But also one to lend a hand and try something that he had never attempted before. As was the case when we rebuilt the galley on the boat with some rudimentary tools and a lot of cursing. So became the beginnings of...

Mongo and Me Woodworking Company
Recently, I was in the office doing office type things, when Mongo's name came into the conversation. He had just been signed off as a Training Mate on the boat we had worked together on. It was the first crucial step in getting that coveted job as a Mate he had been striving for. Mongo and his unicorn were going places. A mere month later from that innocent conversation in the office, we received another message from the office regarding Mongo.

Mongo was on his time off. Undoubtedly enjoying a must needed break from moving to a new boat and starting his training with a new Captain and crew. Mongo was at home in Florida riding his motorcycle, something which he absolutely loved to do. He had an accident and was killed.

Another friend gone too soon. Another Brother mariner taken from the maritime family way too early. Working on tugs is a dangerous business, but one doesn't have to be on the boat to be taken from us.

I'm not the best when it comes to saying goodbye to friends I've lost. This one is no different. We always just assume people will be there and not taken from us. I looked forward to seeing Mongo around the harbor. I wanted him to give us an assist into the dock on his new boat. I wanted to see how he had progressed as a boatman from the last time I had worked with him. I wanted him to keep working hard and get that Mate's spot. Instead, I get to pen another blog post lamenting the loss of a friend. Struggling with how to end a heartfelt miss-mash of words trying to describe a man who cannot be described with words alone.

We'll miss you, Mongo.

That is about the best I can do.

Anthony Giuliano
October 5, 1970 – March 22 , 2017

We'll miss our Mongo!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Super Bowl of Calories

The Super Bowl is tomorrow. Once again, my beloved New England Patriots are making an appearance in the NFL's season finale. Roger Goodell has no choice but to watch Tom Brady and Bill Belichick once again go for the Lombardi trophy. I can't wait.

Problem is, I'm on the boat. I would much rather be at home terrorizing my family, screaming at the television, and throwing pillows around the living room in excitement as I did the last time the Patriots were victorious in Super Bowl 49. I never did find that pillow I threw.

Alas, there are bills to be paid, so here I am at work. I tried to get one of my friends to bring me a New England Patriots flag down to the boat so I could fly it from the mast tomorrow to show my support. After some promising sounding messages from a couple of local friends, the end result of a Patriots flag flying high from the yardarm ended in futility. Schedules didn't match up and no flag was able to be procured for the BIG game. To be fair, my parents were willing to drive 3 hours to deliver a flag to me but that sounded a bit extreme.

Damn you, Amazon for not delivering to vessels while underway!
So I won't have a flag on the boat, but we are still preparing for the game one way or the other. One way we are getting ready is through a well thought out, highly organized list of menu items for tomorrow. We purchased a deep fryer for the galley this hitch. We thoroughly tested it last weekend by dialing in just the perfect amount of seasoning and fine tuning the cooking time for the most delectable chicken wings this side of Hudson Canyon. Also on the menu is meatballs in a fine reduction sauce slowly simmered in a crock pot for hours. Currently, the Chief Engineer is researching the perfect recipe for batter to be used for deep frying Oreo cookies, brownies, candy bars, and whatever other sort of food item that seem like it would be delicious if it happened to be slathered in batter and deep fried to a golden-brown, crispy perfection. The list could literally be endless. While we were making up our grub list earlier this week I was both absolutely horrified by some of the items that were being written down, and yet somewhat intrigued by the same items as to what sort of concoction that we would be able to come up with. A healthy diet this list would not make.
Arugula. Still fun to say.

Which brings me to my latest Million Dollar Idea. Similar in scope to my last couple of Million Dollar ideas. Namely, purchasing a tank and selling rides in said tank for a minimal fee. Or my long time dream of opening up a Bacon Restaurant where everything on the menu contains bacon of a varying degree.

The latest idea- The Tugboat Cook Book.

Now I'm pretty sure that someone out there has already come up with such a thing. Similarly, I know that there are already Bacon Restaurants, and places to drive tanks. However, as with most things that come out of my head, this Tugboat Cookbook will have it's own kind of flair. My own personal touch to it.

Page 1.  Nothing in this cookbook shall be construed to be considered healthy in any way, shape, or form.

Page 2. CPR instructions. Links to the National Red Cross, the American Heart Association, and directions for First Aid, including the Heimlich Maneuver and use of an AED.

Pages 3 thru... whatever. Recipes that are delectable in every way, yet horrendous for you in every way.
You know, tugboat food.

In the last few years, great strides have been taken to improve the lives of mariners through proper rest schedules and healthy eating. As a crew, we try to eat healthy and exercise. It's a work in progress. But with all diet and exercise, you have to allow yourself a "cheat day". Tomorrow just happens to be one of those days.

And yes, the "cheat day" irony is not lost on me. I get it. New England Patriots, cheat day. Funny.
Go Pats!
But let me end with this.

Here is a list of all players that have played in seven Super Bowls:

If you need me tomorrow, I'll be watching the Patriots in the Super Bowl while deep frying a cookie and serving it on ice cream. Should be on page 17 in the Tugboat Cookbook.