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.


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.


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.

Posted in General Ramblings, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photos of the Week 12-24-16

More night time action from the harbor that never sleeps.

Posted in Photo's of the week | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

North River Work

One of the feathers in any New York Boatman’s cap is being able to run to and from Albany and any points en route on the Hudson River. Though as any tug boater in the harbor will tell you, it’s the North River, only ferry boats and land lubbers call it the Hudson.
Due to the nature of the work my boat normally does, we don’t stray far from the upper bay and kills. Occasional trips out the east river to the sound, and occasionally, up the North River to various terminals on the way to Albany. So when we do get these occasional trips, it’s not only a welcome relief to the normal grind, but a fantastic learning experience for a mate like myself.
This past hitch we were fortunate enough to get two trips in the lower section of the river back to back. One to Heritage Kingston, the dividing point for the upper and lower sections of the river, and one to Bottini New Hamburg. The trips were back to back loads with the same barge, which allowed us to escape the bustle and grind of bunker work in the harbor for a few days, and catch up on some needed sleep and paperwork. The barge itself is one of the nicest in our New York fleet, one of three purchased from Gellatly & Criscione Services when they were absorbed by my employer. Roughly 35,0000 BBL’s and well thought out and engineered in all respects. The tankermen love them too, excellent equipment and deck layout, and cavernous accommodations. From a boatman’s perspective they are fantastic to move. The cleat arrangement allows for an easy time with any kind of alongside make up, and its large skegs make for a barge that steers well.
At the start of the hitch we are already back to the grind with this barge and more diesel home heating oil. This time a quick run up to Buckeye Roseton, and then back down to the city for another load to a different terminal. That certainly doesn’t hurt my feelings at all, more trips in the lower half of the river are a continued learning experience for me. Every trip is more familiarity, a higher level of comfort, and a great opportunity for some fantastic landscape photography. It has also been a chance to learn first hand from my captain the history of not only the various terminals on the river, but of the river itself. These upper wheelhouse history lessons are a welcome experience every trip.

As the cold continues to build the demand for home heating oil will only increase, and I hope it continues to mean a steady stream of dock to dock work for us. One barge, one destination, I could certianly get used to this.




Posted in General Ramblings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wreck of the Nathan E. Stewart

This gallery contains 16 photos.

Originally posted on BLUE OCEAN MARINER:
I had been home a couple weeks from the San Francisco run and I was at Crawford’s Nautical School taking a course, when the office called with another last minute, hurry up job.  Our…

Gallery | Leave a comment

Photo of the Week 10-28-16

“Night Ops”

The Brendan Turecamo moving to pick up the pilot after sailing a tanker out of Nustar Linden, bound out the south way for sea.


Posted in Photo's of the week, Photography | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Last Call

As anyone following the maritime industry at all knows, operators across several sectors are facing low rates caused by shrinking demand for their services in conjunction with record overcapacity. Oil field services are what first comes to mind, with the crash in the price of oil two years ago, we have seen record lay offs and massive vessel stacking. To make matters worse, even now, two years down the road we are still seeing deliveries of vessels ordered at oil’s peak. In particular the most expensive vessels with the longest lead times, such as semi submersibles, drill ships, and sub sea contraction and well intervention type vessels.
Aside from the Offshore Oil Industry, other sectors of the world shipping industry have also been hampered with similar problems, albeit over a longer period of time. The dry bulk industry has been bleeding out slowly and painfully over several years, chronic over capacity coupled with the same new order spree has left ship rates depressed and often at or below cost. The slowing of China’s economy and thus there need for raw materials, as well as a shift in state policy towards looking near as opposed to far for resources (see the south china sea). Set things in a downward motion for dry bulk, and shippers vast new build programs hastened things.
The last sector facing these issues, that of container shipping, is what brings me to this post. The past decade of the container ship industry has been characterized as an arm race in the economies of scale. Large and larger ships, dubbed Ultra Large Container Vessels, carrying in upwards of 18,000 TEU’s have been ordered in droves. In a time of growing demand for capacity these ships would make absolute sense. It is vastly more efficient to transport in bulk, on of the reasons seaborne commerce makes up 90% of the goods transported world-wide. However once again capacity and vessel availability is outpacing slowing demand. You practically can’t scrap older smaller ships fast enough, and even if you could, it would take the scrapping of several older ships to balance out the capacity brought to the market by these new generation ULCV’s.
Like many Offshore Oil Services companies, and Dry Bulk shippers, bankruptcy has been a looming threat for several container shipping companies. Several weeks ago the seventh largest one in the world, Hanjin Shipping, announced that they were going out of business. No chapter 11 debt restructuring, outright bankruptcy. Last calls, doors closed, lights off, someone else has the keys. It put a lot of ships in a precarious limbo. Stuck at sea or in anchorage with cargo aboard, however many ports wouldn’t allow entry for fear of non-payment to the various parties involved. From the Pilot’s, tug companies, and terminals, no one wanted to be stuck with the bill. After a lot of these issues were sorted out, many ships started making their final port call’s under the Hanjin flag. I was fortunate to be tipped off to the one of the final arrivals for Hanjin at Maher Terminals at Port Elizabeth. While there would be other calls by other Hanjin ships as late as yesterday, this would be the last ship to unload only at Maher. The reason for this being the last few ships arriving wouldn’t be able to fit under the Bayonne bridge light of cargo. Even this ship, the Hanjin Miami was backloaded with empty containers from other lines to reduce her air-draft. As it was though, I caught her arrival early one morning, before dawn last hitch. For more information on the last few port calls in New York by Hanjin, see here




Posted in General Ramblings, Photography | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment


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.

Posted in General Ramblings, Photography | Tagged , , | Leave a comment