The City Dock of Brotherly Love

Well after a bit of a shake up here at the office, I’ve been re-assigned for the time being to the Philadelphia fleet. I’m on a sister ship to my previous vessel, with a pretty gravy contract shuffling one of our coastal size barges up and down the Delaware River to and from various refineries and terminals. Its been a bit of an adjustment not doing three or four moves a watch, and I keep catching myself making sure the volume hasn’t been turned down on the radios. You get used to the constant noise in the background working in an area like New York harbor, and when 13 isn’t constantly going the wheelhouse seems awful quiet.
I spent several months down here with McAllister, doing mostly ship and assist work, in 2015 during a “slow period” in New York. So its been good to start getting refreshed on the berth names and numbers at the numerous terminals, as well as getting more acquainted with my current company’s operations here on the Delaware River. Aside from the difference in pace, the way bunker operations work here in the greater Philadelphia area is completely different from New York. While we are on contract doing none bunker work, I still get to watch the other boats run up and down the river to various terminals and anchorages to bunker the variety of tankers, bulkers, and container ships that call on the Delaware River.
So in between relearning berths, locations of security calls, and what channel dispatch stands by on, I’ll try and keep taking a photo or two. After all my writing certainly isn’t the reason most of you are here.

P.S. I hope some of you see what I did there with the title.

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Photo of the week, 05-11-17

“Sassafras westbound at sunken meadow for the gate, light one alongside, Sassafras”

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The Mark

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The mark of experience, a certain kind of experience, that’s what the rust on the rails of a tug tween the quarter bitts and texas bar represents. I tend to agree with, as a mentor once told me, “A tugboat doesn’t have to look like shit to make money”. He was of course referring to rust, and dents, and torn up fenders. Though it might have also been a subtle dig at the various boats that appeared to be designed with framing squares, either through back yard engineering or professional CAD program.
However when working with the tow wire, there is a bit of rust that is inevitable, that only goes away for a brief fleeting moment during the height of painting season. The bright orange of fresh oxidation that is left behind from the wear and tear of the wire going over the rail of a tug while transitioning to and from alongside the barge. As operator commands his well choreographed ballet between the boat and barge, the wire slides fore and aft,is hauled in and out dragging the shackle, socket and pennant over the bulwarks. It only takes a couple repetitions of this evolution to color the rails a bright orange in that most working region of the back deck.
It is by this wear and tear, much like the occasional jagged broken antler of a buck, that you can tell a tugboat and its operators are exercising the full chest of tools they are equipped with. After all the ability to tow astern, and transition to and from alongside are what the winch and after controls are there for. It’s a shame when they, like the skill set necessary to make them work, doesn’t get exercised enough to cause a little rust. It’s the mark of a wire boat, which of all of the kinds of work boats, are my favorite.

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Photo of the week 03-04-17

Yet another one of my offices, in black and white.

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Offshore, Nearshore.

Another busy hitch spent mostly offshore. We crew changed on in Jacksonville a day early and ended up waiting a couples days at our Jacksonville yard for weather. Not so much local weather, but the weather for the Cape Hatteras area for about the time we got there. It was a good chance to get some paperwork done right at the beginning of the hitch and get what would prove to be the only extra sleep of the hitch.

We left Jacksonville at 1800 and put the barge on the wire in the anchorage just below the Matthews Bridge. We had two pilots aboard and the deputy pilot happened to be the brother of a captain I had worked for on an internship in 2010. As usual the maritime industry is a small world. Our pilots a week and a half later would again confirm that.

Even with our weather delay we weren’t in for a pleasure cruise on our way to Philadelphia.  The forecasts followed the old axiom of “add the sustained winds and gusts together to get the true wind speed.” From a 40 knot gale on our ass coming around the Cape, to several hours of 70 and 80 knots sustained on Chesapeake Bay, it was a long trip up the coast. The highpoint was certainly reeling in two layers of wire below the Chesapeake Bay bridge in order to make it through the buoys while transiting the span. With the breeze on our beam my deckhand was able to touch up the paint on the green buoys while the barge’s tanker-men changed the lightbulbs on the reds. In other words, it was another trip offshore in February.

We loaded at Girard Point in the Schuylkill River, got fuel for the tug, water, some more grub, and had a couple of maintenance items attended too. We then spent the next two days again waiting for weather in the expected offshore section of our trip to Charleston South Carolina.  The winter sky’s and weather really combined for some more fantastic sunsets on my afternoon watch.

 

It was then a windy, but nice trip down the Delaware, through the C&D, and down the Chesapeake. We put the barge on the wire around watch change after passing below the Bay Bridge. Once again we had some less favorable weather going around the Cape, but we arrived in Charleston on a perfect blue bird day. We started reeling in the barge just passed the sea buoy as we ran outside the channel on the green side. This worked out perfectly timing wise as the pilots boarded just before we pulled the pin, and then ran around to get in push gear.

As I talked with the deputy pilot, who is around my age, the coincidences started to mount up. We had some close friends in common, and had even worked in the same division at Edison Chouest, around the same time. It really is a remarkably small industry, and during our trip up the channel and river we all had a good laugh about it. Another highlight of the trip down was the regular escort provided by groups of spotted atlantic dolphins. Between the five person crew onboard, we’ve got nearly a hundred years working in the industry. All that sea time on tugs boats, fishing boats, charter boats, research vessels, all that experience melts away when you have a group of dolphins on the bow. The smiles and laughs always seem like the first time.

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On the Wire

It’s been a busy few weeks to start the new year, both at home and afloat. On the tugboat front we’ve put some miles under the keel in the last two weeks; roughly 2,000 to be specific. After nearly a year of bunkering and running around the harbor we are finally doing some coastwise work, and for me it’s a chance to learn the ins and outs of working on the wire. At my previous employer we got on the wire a precious few times due to our run being so short and in the generally sheltered waters of long island sound. We’d load in New York Harbor, often KMI Carteret, and push loaded to Port Jefferson. 11-12 hours later we would leave with the barge light alongside for another load in the harbor.

The majority of my work now consists of running around the harbor on the end of the dispatchers phone line! Multiple barge moves a watch, in and out of IMTT or Buckeye Bayonne. Then off to the anchorage or up Newark Bay to Port Elizabeth/Port Newark. The bunker trips are broken up on occasion by clean oil dock to dock trips in the harbor.

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So it was a definite treat to find out that we would be making some out of town trips for a client with one of our newer barges. A number of these trips would be extremely out of town, as far afoot as I’ve been yet as a watch stander on a tugboat. After loading in New York we headed out the Narrows and got on the wire just below the Verrazano Bridge. As we headed down Ambrose for sea we stretched out a couple of layers of wire, and after turning out between the 1 and 3 buoys we let out some more. From that point on it was several days of gradually warming weather, in conjunction with gradually blueing water. The sunsets on the afternoon watch certainly didn’t disappoint.

Our arrival to the St. Johns Sea Buoy was towards the end of my 0001-0600 watch. In order to make good out ETA to the pilot station, I had to gradually slow down and pull in wire to keep it off the bottom. Off the sea buoy we pulled in the rest of the wire and pulled the pin to disconnect. For this part of the evolution I remained at the forward controls with the steering controls and kept us on a straight course in front of barge. The capt. ran the throttles and the winch, as soon as we disconnected I took the throttles back and drove around to the stern of the barge to get into push gear.

While we were more than ready to get to the dock after 5 days offshore, at this point thick fogged had rolled off the coast and settled just offshore. Thick enough that the Pilots had closed the river to piloted traffic. So I went to bed and we drifted around to nearly 1100 when the fog had lifted and we had a pilot. Then it was just a quick trip up river to the terminal where we dropped the barge and ran off to take on fuel, water, and offload trash at our company dock in Jacksonville. Again the Small Vessel Operations network struck again and I got a wave from a fellow alumni on the Katie T Moran as they steamed down river to meet a ship.

Once our quick turn around was complete, we put the barge on the wire just off of the dock and headed for sea. Our pilot was the same who had brought us in from sea and we had a great conversation about the suspension of Sea Year at Kings Point as both him and his wife are alumni, and his daughter is currently at the school. After he boarded the pilot boat just below Mayport we slowed slightly to get ready to begin letting out wire outside of the jetties. The first order of business is to get the wire sitting in one of the donuts on the texas bar. These are a large metal ring with an indent in them which the wire sits in, they then slide from side to side as the boat rolls and yaws, preventing wear and tear on the wire. When you have been towing up short and the wire isn’t sitting on the donut there are a few ways to get it into the donut. If the donut is already up off the angled edge of the texas bar then it is just a matter of sliding it into place under the wire so it simply drops into place as you slow down and pay out wire. However in our case the donuts were still off to either side of the texas bar and too heavy to lift up onto the straight section of the texas bar. The process in this case is to use the boat and the barge to slide the wire up side of the boat past the donut. To do this I simultaneously slowed down, let out a small amount of wire, and drove out to one side of the barge. At this point the barge is traveling faster than the tug and it only takes a few seconds for the bow of the barge to pull the wire forward on the rail of the tug. As this happens I speed up, pay out a bit more wire and drive back out in front of the barge. When done correctly this looks like one smooth swift motion, to be honest it took me two tries. Our winch requires you to run the level wind manually and operating that, the winch itself, the throttles, and the steering is a lot all at once.

Once we had the wire in the donut and the tug was in front of the barge and straightened out, I radioed up to the wheelhouse and my AB put the boat on autopilot. This allowed me to concentrate on working the throttles and winch to pay out wire while keeping enough tension on it to keep the catenary off of the bottom. Then it was again a couple of days on the wire headed north, this time for the Chesapeake Bay and C & D canal with a destination of Philadelphia to wait out poor weather offshore. It was a blustery trip up the bay and through the Canal, the wind and weather continued as we towed up Delaware Bay towards Philly. Off the Navy Yard we called all hands and rounded up on the barge shortly after dinner time. The conditions continued to be challenging and between the crew of the tug and the two crew on the barge we had the barge alongside, made up, and underway again in roughly five minutes. The crew we have onboard are a great bunch and we all work at a nearly unspoken level together, what has made it even better was the ease of working with the current barge crew. They are two great guys and always worked to make our jobs easier.

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Even with crew change just around the corner there was time for one last local job for us and the barge, a quick run from our dock in the Schuylkill River down the Del City for a load, and then up to Del Air for a discharge. We crew changed by tugboat off the mouth of the Schuylkill as we went by with the loaded barge, it was then a mad dash to our vehicles at our Brooklyn Dock, and then homeward bound! All said in done we put a lot of miles under the keel, and I got to learn some new things while sharpening my voyage planning skills.

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Photos of the Week 12-24-16

More night time action from the harbor that never sleeps.

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