Well everyone can stop using their Game of Thrones “winter is coming” hash tags, myself included. Winter is here in New York harbor, though thankfully we haven’t seen any white walkers…yet. It has however started to get cold, and we’ve born the brunt of our first real front of the season. It’s blown 20 or better the last few days, with prolonged periods in the 35-45 kt range. You could call this weekend the kick off for the next six months of hair loss and comfort eating for most of the tug boaters in the North East.
For operators like myself doing primarily bunker and harbor work, we are also getting into the busier time of the year. Ship traffic picks up for not only increased fuel consumption, but also containers full of all the holiday goodies destined for store shelves. We also see an upswing in “dock to dock” work in the harbor, that is moving various types of petroleum products between terminals in the Port of New York and New Jersey, as well as out the sound and up the Hudson River. The vast majority of these dock-to-dock moves involve home heating oil. As more and more people lose the battle with their thermostat it will only get busier for us. Loading in the kills, whether its IMTT Bayonne, KMI Carteret, KMI Staten Island, Motiva Seawaren, just to name a few. We fan out to the smaller terminals in the city, Buckeye Brooklyn, Buckeye Bronx, Metro Newtown Creek, Castle Oil 138th st. Or when the weather cooperates out the sound to the smaller harbors. New Haven, Bridgeport, Port Jefferson. There is also a steady stream up the Hudson, to the various berths in Albany, Newburgh, and Heritage Kingston. The network that moves heating oil in the just the greater New York area is expansive and complex, and when its cold and things are going full swing, it really is impressive.
On a day to day basis the arrival of winter means a few things for me operationally. For one there are going to be a lot less days where you can get away with “sloppy” tug boating. Things like moving light barges in push gear because you don’t want to remake tow, or not having two or three plans in advance for a particular evolution. Three part headlines are taking the place of two part, regardless of what the tankerman thinks, and foul weather gear needs to be on hand.
It’s often said that a deckhand can make or break the guy on the throttles, and when its blowing 40 that guy or gal on the deck can make or break the entire operation. This is no truer than during a particular evolution we’ve had to do several times in the last few days. Three times now, we’ve had to make up heads to tails on a light barge at the mooring, with the wind out of the northwest and a flood tide. The 30 to 40 knots of northwest wind causes the barges at the mooring to lay with the wind, essentially at a 90-degree angle to the flood tide. So on one side of the raft making up alongside a barge is easy. The tide holds you against the barge. On the other side, the side we just so happened to be going to each time, things are much more difficult. The tide is setting you off of the barge, and with your stern into the wind it is working to peel you off the barge.
Due to these two environmental forces the normal tactic of grabbing your strap, working ahead into it and putting up your head line, and then stern line just won’t work. Instead when the tankerman is ready to receive the stern line we back up quickly at an angle to the barge. The deckhand sends up the stern line with an excess of slack, and with a couple turns already on the capstan. After the eye of the line is on the barge, I let the stern fall away slightly, and slowly bring tension on the line. As my deckhand hauls in line on the capstan, I twist the bow of the boat towards the barge working against the line. We end up with the bow against the barge in roughly the area needed to put up the strap, with the stern line holding us in place while we make up the other two lines.
All in all this is a maneuver that when done well looks incredibly graceful, the same as watching a good boatman flop on a barge from the tow wire. It relies on a sharp deck crew, good communication, and being able to comfortably run the boat from the stern controls. You’ll notice I listed a sharp deck crew first, because that guy or gal on deck is the cotter pin holding this whole maneuver together. They are the difference between making one approach and nailing it, or having to things several times.