Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It's a BIG Ocean

The Earth’s surface is approximately 71% water. Of that, 97% of that water surface is made up of the oceans. While at I’m at work I only need just a minuscule percentage of that in order to operate the boat safely. As we have shown before, bad things happen when two vessels try to occupy the exact same parcel of water at the exact same moment in time. It gets expense. Something that all true professional mariners strive to avoid at all times. This is exactly why I get so annoyed when someone wants to try to invade my particular tiny piece of water that I already occupy.

I have a t-shirt that I made at home that says, “I hate sailboats”. That’s all it says. No fancy graphics. No high tech fonts. Just a simple statement of fact. I hate sailboats. Wearing a shirt like that also happens to invoke random strangers at the airport to query the meaning of my shirt. It’s a conversation starter. When I explain to them that I work on tugboats, an almost sudden realization of the meaning hits them and all becomes instantly clear. It is as if there is a worldwide understanding that people on sailboats are indeed a scourge to waterways.
The offending shirt. Simple. Classy. Okay, simple.
 Anyone who has ever sailed the Ocean Blue, the Deep Muddy, the Inland Rivers, back bays, Sounds, rivers, harbors, etc. has at one point in time come across the ever-despised WAFI. In case you weren't aware, a WAFI, is a Wind Assisted Fucking Idiot. Not to be confused with a MAFI, a Motor Assisted Fucking Idiot. A WAFI, in its more accepted term, is a sailboat. And I hate them.

For some reason, sailboaters are under the impression that the Rules of the Road just don’t apply to them. Or they are just idiots. I happen to lean more towards the side that they happen to be ‘Stupid to the Highest Degree (squared)’. On more than one occasion, I have had sailboats try to cut between the tugboat and the barge that I was towing. Never mind that there happens to be either a giant rope hawser, or a large steel wire trailing behind the tug connecting us the barge. It is, in fact, the exact way that we TOW a barge.  No amount of sound signals, radio calls, or brightly shining spot lights directed at the WAFI should dissuade them to alter their course away from impend danger and/or death. The same can be said for sailboats crossing your bow, impeding you in a confined channel, or any other numerous situations where you just shake your head and silently ask yourself, “Can someone really be this stupid?” The answer is ‘YES’. Yes, they can. And if you were to survey 100 tugboaters and ask them if they had ever experienced a similar situation, 105 of them would answer in the affirmative. It’s going to happen. It’s a fact of life out here on the water. WAFI’s have earned their reputation as a plague upon the nations waterways (as have most MAFI’s).
"I swear I didn't see the GIANT orange ship"
 Full disclosure: I don’t hate sailboats. A sailboat with beautiful lines that hearkens back to a time gone past is a pleasing sight. The quiet of being propelled by Mother Nature with the only sound being the hull gliding through the water and the wind in your face is something to embrace.
I just hate the people that run them. Poorly.

If you work up in the waters of the northeastern United States, spring time signals the start of WAFI season. We also refer to the sudden emergence of this group of waterborne locusts as the beginning of the ‘Weekend Warriors’. A conglomeration of 9 to 5ers whose expertise of the water doesn’t extend much past the fact that water is wet.
Being that we are currently assigned to the Gulf of Mexico, I was hoping that the year round pleasant boating weather would increase the odds that the water bound populace would be more skilled in the areas of following the Rules of the Road and just general seamanship. And for the most part, not having to cram a whole year’s worth of pleasure boating into 3 months and then forgetting about the water for the other 9, has indeed seemed to have an effect.

Alas, our focus has merely shifted from the relatively well behaved southern Weekend Warriors, to a different group of glaring floating pestilence. Shrimp boats. The WAFI’s of the Gulf of Mexico.
I was of the impression that the shrimp boats, staffed with seasoned mariners such as ourselves, would have more of a grasp of proper water-going etiquette, a mutual respect for those who make a living by plying the seas. I was wrong. Very wrong.
Might as well throw them into the MAFI category. But worse.  At least the assorted _AFI’s would sometimes realize that a tiny fiberglass boat versus a hulking steel barge would lead to a very quick demise. But the shrimp boats could care less. I guess their theory is that their boat would fare better than a sailboat. I would venture that they might do a bit more than scratch our paint, but I’m fairly sure that the end result would be the same. But you can’t even tell that to them because they are either- 1.) Not monitoring their radio to hear our calls that they are heading for danger, or 2.) Their command of the spoken English language is not up to par as to understand that they are acting rather foolishly (cleaned up here for NSFW language).
Shrimp boat Captain? (What is it with this blog and Tom Hanks?)
 Either way, the number of WTF! moments are starting to pile up. Nothing that requires paperwork (or worse), but just enough to get your heart pumping a little faster, your blood pressure to rise, and your focus to narrow. It’s the Gulf’s version of WAFI season. And with the coming of the springtime fog season, which just adds another variable to the equation, it makes we wonder if 3 months of Weekend Warriors isn’t such a bad deal at all.

I just want a tiny, little, itty-bitty, piece of water borne real estate in order to affect my craft. Is it so unreasonable to want to have everyone else do the same?
I guess that I now need a t-shirt that says, “I hate shrimp boats”. And I know that plenty of professional mariners here in the Gulf happen to agree with me.

At a minimum it will spark more random discussions in the airport.


  1. AMEN to that! After the last few years of driving a mud boat, and growing up in the northeast. I will take the WAFI's over shrimpers any day!

  2. I have had ample opportunity to consider this very issue and have come to a couple of conclusions: 1.) Steer well clear of all shrimp boats, and 2.) If the c*cksuckers would show *only* the lights they should be showing while trawling, I'd be able to steer clear more efficiently and much sooner. Working out of Mobile Bay just now, and was astonished to learn shrimpers here speak English and come up early on the radio