Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The wrong way

What we are looking at here is two lines on a cleat of a New York sanitation scow. One of them leads forward to the tug, and one leads aft. This is what we call "scow style" make up. We do this when there aren't enough cleats on the scow, or if the cleats aren't in the right place for a more conventional make up. One of these lines does the pulling, the other is there for backing purposes. Out of view, back at the stern of the boat, is a stern line that holds the boat alongside while turning.

So here's what's wrong: Notice how each line is only hooked on one horn of the cleat? That's no good! People do it, and make a habit of it for a whole career and never get in trouble, but it isn't right. If one of these lines should fail, the boat will slide until the other lines just falls off the cleat, and then we're just hanging on that stern line. the problem with that is two-fold.

As we're making way through the water, we are cramming loads of water between the scow and the boat. These lines are under tremendous strain holding the two vessels together. Now all of a sudden we have nothing there, what happens? The two vessels get pushed apart by this wedge of water, and the only thing holding it all together is the stern line. First of all, we've lost control of the scow. We have no means of steering it. We could put the rudder hard over, bringing the boat back to the scow and doing a big circle until the deckhand gets a couple of lines out - but we need a lot of sea room to get that done. What if there's another boat, or a rock, or some other hazard there? The other problem - and it's a much greater problem - is that as the two vessels separate, they get sideways to the flow of water. They open up like a V. The scow goes one way, the boat goes the other, and now the boat is getting towed by the scow, instead of the other way around. If the scow starts towing the boat sideways, it leans the boat over. we call this getting tripped. The boat leans way over, water gets all over the deck and into any openings, doors, vents, etc..... and starts flooding the boat. Many tugs are lost in this manner. Tugs are built very low to the water, there isn't a lot of freeboard, or reserve buoyancy. You get a little flooding, and it doesn't take much before it's all over.

So why do guys do this the wrong way? It's faster. It's easier than teaching the deckhand about leading the two parts around one end of the cleat and dropping the bight on the other, or even educating them about terms like "the bight" or the "bitter end" versus the "standing part". It's a little easier to get the line off when they are like this too. Take a look at the next post for the right way to do it.

The right way

So here's the same make up - scow style - but done right. The bright blue line is leading forward, it's the towing line. It does most of the work - that is it does all the forward pulling. The older dingy line leading aft does all the work when backing, or operating astern.

The right thing about all this is that both lines have a solid purchase on the cleat. We refer to it as a "fore and aft" lead, although it's called different things in different places. If one of theses lines should fail, the other line stays firmly on the cleat. It will be a little slack as the boat slides fore or aft, but I've still got a solid hold on the scow - albeit a little sloppy - until we get a new line out. This is basic good seamanship, pure and simple. Do it right, don't take short cuts, no matter how many times you might get away with it. It's only going to take one time to ruin a perfectly good day, or get someone killed, or even just get you doing a bunch of unpleasant paperwork.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Catherine Turecamo working the stern of the NYK KAI at Port Elixabeth
Laura K Moran on the bow
Chicago Bridge at Port Elizabeth
Chicago Bridge with tugs alongside

This is what we get for scenery these days on the Brian. No big orange ferries, or joggers on the East River. Watching the boats work the ships has got me thinking about my time doing ship assist, in Boston, and for about a year in Philadelphia too.

I liked it because it made me become a better boat handler. The pilot is always expecting a quick response, so one learns how to get it done efficiently. Trying to stay in front of a ship coming out of Chelsea Creek while the deckhand is trying to retrieve your line on the fantail requires finesse and attention to detail for sure. I remember when the craziest, scariest thing was trying to hold the boat in place above the Chelsea St. bridge while waiting for the ship to come through so you could get a line up on the starboard bow. On one side is the channel where the ship is coming, on the other side is the wall of a pump house, where you are trying not to get pushed into. As the ship is coming at you it's pushing a whole bunch of water, which is trying to blow you out of the way. After a while it becomes routine, bump it in and out of gear, hold the boat almost in the way of the ship as it comes, then allow the bow wave to push you aside as you're steering into the ship to land without pushing him around too much.

That was after getting the bare basics down pat. The captain would let you run around light tug, then when he thought you were ready, he'd show you how to come alongside a moving ship. The first time I did that, I came in too hard and knocked everything all over the wheel house. There's some things to know there too, like in anything. I was taught to let the point on the ship, your landing place, to pass you - or at least let it come abeam of you. Then you have to match the boat's speed to the ship. The rest is fairly easy, but it takes a little practice, bring the boat in FLAT alongside the ship. My mistake was that I angled in and landed the shoulder on it, like a lineman laying a block lol. Turn the rudder a little toward the ship, bring the boat in some. Then shift the rudder the other way to flatten out. Keep repeating that a few times till you lay it up alongside gentle as can be. Once your in there, put a little rudder against the ship to keep you pinned without pushing the guy around. Easy as cake.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Capt. Ed transferring a load of elusive New York Harbor ball fish. Although they are somewhat elusive, there is no bag limit.
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Sunday, May 29, 2011

I'm baaack!

Wow, it's been a long time since I've written anything. I spent the whole home hitch putting together my new apartment and selling my boat. the apartment isn't quite all there yet, but it is all mine, and that's something - no room mates - just me. The boat had to go, and I'm not happy about that. In the micro economics that is my life it was the right thing to do, between the recent move, and a weird tax bill that came out of nowhere. So I let it go to a guy at work who was looking for the same kind of boat and it freed up a couple of thousand dollars that was sorely needed. So now I'm looking at the next one and my thoughts turn to power boats, but upon further reflection I think I need to stick with the sailboats. I mean, even the most economical powerboats are about eight to ten bucks an hour to run, and with the amount of boating I do this just isn't sustainable.

Stay tuned for some sort of tug related post , real soon.

Hey Bill. thanks for following. We need to get together soon.

Friday, May 6, 2011

On the downstroke

Over the hump, or as My friend Bill would say, "on the down stroke now". Yesterday we were one week into the hitch with one week to go. We've been back on dredge detail this trip, and that makes for some long watches. There's just something about traveling around the harbor that makes the time go by a little faster. Doing dredge work, at least here in Newark Bay, there's a lot of sitting at the dock waiting for something to happen.

Either there is ship traffic that we need to move a dredge off station, or we need to swap out scows, or help the big boat make up for the dump run. When none of that is going on, it's "stand by to stand by". The deckhands have been doing a little painting, I've been keeping the chahrts and logs up to date, and other than that it's a lot of time for reading and catching up with our friends on thhe other boats at the dock.

No pics for today, we've got a real slow connection so there's no sense aggravating my self trying to put something up.

Monday, May 2, 2011

As the wheel turns...................................

We took this loaded scow off the dredge F.J. Belisimo thhis afternoon and took it up to Berth 22 to await the Atlantic Salvor. which would tow it to sea for disposal
I wonder if this guy drew the short straw for this assignment, or was it a reward?
John, of the Megan Ann and Claude passing time
Atlantic Concert inbound for Port Elizebeth
There's always something that needs painting on a tug.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Willis Ave. Bridge

Here's an interesting job; This is the tug Herbert Brake with the Willis Ave. Bridge on a scow. It is heading into the canal at Claremont to be cut up for scrap. The captain on the Herbie is Pat Folan, who is an awesome boatman and a great photographer too. Here is his website with tons of pictures of boats and stuff

Back to work!

Dredging in Port Elizabeth, getting ready to flip a scow end for end alongside dredge Delaware Bay.
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Friday, April 15, 2011

Viking Starliner

This is the boat we went to Montauk to look at. Some time this week or next, we'll be bringing it up to Boston. Dad had this boat in Boston for a few years, then it went back to New York for a year. Now he has an opportunity to get again for his business in Boston. She was built in 1963 by Blount in Warren Rhode Island. 97 feet, gross tonnage 99, with a capacity of around 300 people. She has 3 Detroit Diesel engines. I think they are 12-71's but I'm not sure. The center one also runs a bow thruster, which really comes in handy with this boat beacause the old fashioned manual steering is a real bear to handle in a hurry.

I had never been that far out Long Island before. It's a nice place, reminds me of Cape Cod a lot. I'm going to put it on my list of places to go when I have more time to poke around a little.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Port jefferson NY

Waiting for the 8 pm boat at Port Jefferson. Its going to be a long day, stood watch 0001 to 0600, got a little sleep before noon crew change - then drove out to Montauk to look over a boat - won't see home until about midnight.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Vissy Paper

This is one of our regular stops on the Brian Nicholas. Often you'll see tugs laying on the caissons to the right of the building as they wait for their oil barges just across the river. We're looking at it from the north. A loaded scow has just been secured there by The Thomas Witte. In this picture we can't see the south side, but what happens is that as the scows get unloaded inside the shed they get shifted to the south through the building to a dock outside where they wait for a tug to take them away. The barge alongside the Brian is a little 90' deck barge that was being used to do some dock construction there.

I have a short video of the approach and the make-up and departure that I will post when I get home.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tools of the trade

These are a few of the tools that get a lot of use on a tugboat when the weather turns nice. On the left is a needle gun, used to remove loose paint and rust in preparation for fresh paint. the middle tool is a grinder with a wire wheel attachment for cleaning up the surface after the heavy stuff is knocked off. The next one is a grinder with a plain old grinding wheel on it, for those pesky things like old welds, remnants of brackets that have been cut off over the years, fasteners protruding through from the other side of the bulkhead ( that's what we call walls on boats), and other such imperfection that need removing.

Not long after stepping aboard a tug, one becomes intimately familiar with these tools and their use - and the mind numbing rattle of that needle gun doing its thing.

Time to do something about this

This little job has been overlooked for years, and while it's out of the way and covered up by all sorts of equipment, it is time to do something about it.

Mary Alice

When I took a little break from chipping, I came out of my corner and the Mary was alongside transferring some water to us here at Berth 5. I don't know who that is at the rail of the Mary, but that's Mark Browning in the foreground messing around with the water hose.

I'll do a post about the Mary at some point in the future, she's a great boat. I was mate on her for a while before I decided to try a career change last year.

ready for some paint

This is that nasty white bulkhead all cleaned up and ready for some paint. The next step will be some sort of rust converter, or coroseal, or some such product, then a coat of primer, then a nice coat of Donjon blue

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tug Paul Andrew

Here is the Paul Andrew standing by in Port Elizabeth N.J. The captain on board is Ed Holden, who has been working on tugs ever since he was a kid. His father was a tug captain, as were his uncles - the whole family! His brother runs a tug too I believe.

The Paul is on the small side, at 68 feet, with 1200 horsepower; Despite her small size, she's quite a work horse, and among the best kept boats I have ever seen. Because of the clean burning modern Cummins diesels, she is often used as a dredge tender, keeping the N.O.X. emissions down, which is a consideration on Army Corps of Engineer dredging contracts these days. I've been told that Donjon has a competitive edge because one of our dredges and this boat meet this environmental challenge pretty readily. When I was a mate on the Mary Alice, we had orders not to spend too much time standing by alongside the dredge Delaware Bay unless absolutely necessary because we didn't have the same low low emissions as the Paul did. She was built in 1968 as the Miss Holly by Breaux's Bay Craft of Loreauville, Louisiana. She was previously operated by S.C. Loveland Co. of Philadelphia PA. and is a very well traveled boat.

An interesting thing about Tug Boats - at least to me anyways - is how durable they are. 1968, 43 years old, and still going strong. This is not uncommon at all, with regular maintenance and up grades, these boats go on and on. My current boat, the Brian Nicholas was built in '66. Most of the boats I have worked on are about this old in fact. How many trucks on the road are that old? Not too many, that's for sure. A quick Google search reveals that the average age of a tug in the U.S. is 38 yrs. old.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pulaski Bridge Newtown Creek

This Bridge spans Newtown Creek in Brooklyn/Queens our dock is up past that black/red barge you can just barely make out on the left. You can see the man on the scow to the left, wearing the orange coat (just to the left and underneath the left hand bridge abutment). He's there to keep an eye on that left or port side. As we go through, I can't really see anything to my left. I need someone up there to let me know what's going on. With two scows wide like this, there's about 25 feet of clearance on the port side and about 10 feet on my side. Although it's hard to damage at slow speeds like this, it is considered bad form to hit the bridge fendering. On our left side right before the bridge is a small fleet of sailboats, what I like to think of as a floating trailer park (my kind of place!) so I'm favoring the right hand side. Sometimes there is an oil barge just on the other side of the bridge on the right side, and this can make things interesting as you're trying to stay off of that and not hit that barge further up on the left. the first couple of times I did this, it was really challenging, worrying about hitting the sailboats, or the bridge, but after a few times it becomes routine. The thing of it is to have a good man out on your blind side and to go slow enough to have time to maneuver, yet fast enough to have steerage - you need some water moving past the rudders in order for the boat to do what you want. Once we got up to the dock, we had to swap these two barges out with two loaded ones. It goes something like this: Drop the left side one off behind the first one at the dock, then slide up and grab the one in front of that, while holding onto the one we have on the nose. Then we take those two and slide them further up alongside another one sitting at the dock, leave them there and slide back to the first two, put a line on them and move them down to the spot we just opened up. Then we flip that first load back alongside the empty so that they're two wide with the empty to the dock and the load outside of it. then we go back to the other set, flip that empty into the slot we took the load out of, take that second load and put alongside the first load, put them back in push gear and get underway with both of them. That whole thing takes about 30 minutes or so, than another hour and a half or two hours back to Claremont.

From time to time, I'll be posting photos and short posts from my phone, then coming back to elaborate on them later, just so's we're all on the same page here :~)

I think I have a video of an inbound transit to this dock at home. If so, I'll post it when I get a chance.


Two scrappies in push gear. The taller one is set aft so as to see around iot better.
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Test post

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Statue of Liberty

I took this Friday during the D.O.S. run.

Friday! oh wait...........just another day here at work

Oh well, it's 0430 Friday morning. We've got some down time so here I am trying to post some pics, but they are too big. I guess I need to look into this a little bit, huh? I was doing some uploading a few months ago and I used up our data allowance on the air card so I don't want to get into that situation again, the tech guy here will shut us down until next month.

Thursday was another great day at work. We were dispatches to the Dept of Sanitation paper run, which is maybe my all time favorite job here at Donjon. I keep saying I could do this run daily until I retire, but I'd probably get bored with it sooner or later. What it is is recyclable paper which gets loaded unto a scow at 59th street Manhattan, on the Hudson river, and gets taken down to Vissy Paper which is located on the Western shore of Staten Island in the Arthur Kill. It's about 18 miles or so from one dock to the other, and almost always there's a return trip with a light scow.

From 59th street it's a nice ride down along the Manhattan Riverfront, past the Intepid Sea Air and Space Museum, the passenger ship terminal, the Chelsea Piers, and that spectacular New York skyline. Then we jog over to the New Jersey side of the river and pass Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, as we head down towards Constable Hook and turn west into the Kill Van Kull. This where things get real industrial. From here on out it's mostly oil terminals and other kinds of industrial waterfront all the way to our destination.

This took up all of my afternoon watch, which runs from noon to 6 pm. Then it was a quick dinner then off to bed. I had to be up again at midnight for my next six hour watch, but I just tossed and turned until at least 9 - I kept trying to read myself to sleep, but it just wasn't happening. As you can imagine, I wasn't too happy to get woken up at 12, but that's the way it goes. usually there's a couple of those kinds of lost sleep nights every hitch. Such is the life of a boatman here in the big city.............

Thursday, April 7, 2011

One week down, one to go.

This is a light scrap scow on Gate Lines as we're heading into the Hutchinson River. This configuration of tow involves using two lines from the main bitt on the aft deck up to the scow and keeping the scow right up close behind the tug. We do this when the scow is too high to see over or around, and when we have to bring it through narrow passes where there is no room for the boat to be alongside the tow. In this case, we had to maneuver through two bridges which only afforded about 6 0r 8 feet on either side of the scow. Being up close and using two lines from our pivot point to the corners of the barge ensures that the barge stays right behind the boat as we go through these narrow passages.

Geese are a common sight around the docks, they get used to a free meal now and then from the boats.

Finally, back to some real tug boating! I guess it's all real tug boating, but since before Christmas we had been dredge tending in Newark Bay, never getting more than about 2 miles from our home dock.
When we showed up for our hitch last Thursday, we were sent over to Claremont to do shifting work among the scrap scows there. this was because the tug that usually does it was in drydock.

As with many things, I really started to enjoy it once we got into the thick of it. It is a bit more intense than some of the other work I've done around here, in that a typical day will consist of a dozen or more more moves within the yard. It's close quarters, one part of the yard has a narrow, shallow canal - and other parts involve sliding the scows in between other pieces of equipment and this requires both deckhands to be up on the scow to handle lines and give steering directions. Because of this, we were "off watches" - working a regular 10 hour day and getting our rest at night like normal workaday folks. I am not really too fond of that arrangement, as I've grown accustomed to watching the world go by 6 hrs. at a time while at work.

So we did that until Tuesday, then we got back on the scrap runs. This is great because it gets us out and about in the harbor. the first run was from Claremont up to the the Bronx river, where we exchanged a light (empty) scow for a loaded one. Boy was it great to be out in the bay again, up through the East River and Hell Gate to Hunts Point and then back down to Claremont. The running joke for the past few months was whether or not we could find these places, or know what to do once we got there.

Things are humming along here on the Brian, we've been suffering some crew problems, which isn't all that uncommon in the business, but we're soldiering on.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Almost ready for some paint!

I think tomorrow I'll be ready to get some paint on the decks finally. Strangely enough, I'm really enjoying this work. It's been three days now of scrape, sand, and vacuum. I'm beginning to see now why some people become so attached to their boats. I'm generally not a real go getter when it comes to maintenance, I much prefer to run boats and leave that stuff to the deck hands, but this past few days has instilled a pride of ownership and a sense of accomplishment. Like I might have said in an earlier post, I'm totally psyched to have a decent looking boat this season. I've got just a little more prepping to do to in the A.M. I thought I was all done today, but there are some areas that looked okay from one angle, but closer inspection shows that they aren't quite ready yet. I'm really focusing on trying to get it as faired and smooth as I can before I rush the paint. To think, I was trying to sell the boat this winter. I think I'm beginning to embrace the "go small, go now" philosophy. Smaller sails, smaller docking fees, smaller upkeep, I'm digging it!

I've been following some cruising blogs, which are very inspirational and entertaining. and

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More sanding/scraping/chipping

I got in another good day of sanding and prep work for painting the deck and coach roof. I think one more day of prep, and I'll be ready to paint! That deck was some nasty! I can't wait to see that first coat of primer go on.

Moving day tomorrow - the Uncle Buck era is over, on to the next chapter.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Catching up

I spent some time down at the boat yard yesterday, where I was reacquainted with the "rule of threes". This states that any project one does on a boat is going to cost three times as much and take three times as long as originally thought. I thought I was going to do a little sanding on my decks, and then open up a gallon of paint and go to town. What actually happened though is another matter. I spent five hours sanding and scraping, and sanding and scraping some more. I'm about a quarter of the way through the prep work before I will be ready to put some paint on. There is a lot of stubborn, chipped paint on the decks. It almost looks like somebody just slapped some paint on the thing without worrying too much about proper surface preparation. I'm going to need to get a wire wheel to get at some of it. there are a bunch of nooks and crannies around the toe rail that I can't get at with the sander, and hand sanding and scraping it would just take way too long and not really get at the heart of the matter. I hope I can get this little project done before the 31st, when I have to go back to work for 2 weeks! I am totally psyched to have a decent looking boat this summer.

On the work front, my new license came back from the NMC. It was waiting in my mail when I got home. It isn't a big piece of paper anymore, it is all contained in a little passport-sized book now. The MMD is in there too, so I don't have to keep track of a license (how were we supposed t0 keep them in good shape in a sea bag anyways) and a separate ID card. It's all one thing now, and goes right next to my passport, hardly takes up any room, and I stuffed them in a zip-loc baggie to keep them dry. So now I can leave this big clunky binder at home, I need to figure out a workable solution for my radio operators license though. Why does that have to be a big 8"x11" paper instead of a wallet sized card?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Mexican Fisherman

The Mexican Fisherman

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, "Only a little while."

The American then asked, "Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more fish?"

The Mexican said, "With this I have more than enough to support my family's needs."

The American then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life."

The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat: With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you will run your ever-expanding enterprise."

The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, how long will this all take?"

To which the American replied, "15 to 20 years."

"But what then?" asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said that's the best part. "When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."

"Millions?...Then what?"

The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."

-- Author Unknown