Monday, April 29, 2013


“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 coming in.”

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 loves company.

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- Plan B’.

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 boat.

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 change?”

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.

Communication works both ways, pal.

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