Tugboat Tour, video

In conversations at book signings and other events, people ask me how I came to be a writer. It was a winding path, though plenty of interesting places. One of those locales was the Philadelphia waterfront, including the Delaware River and Bay as well as the Atlantic Ocean. Part of my business involved tugboats and barges. So, here’s a video tour of the tug High Roller, a boat that I worked with while in that environment.

That’s quite a piece of floating machinery, isn’t it? One of the main engines has just been rebuilt, to the tune of about $250,000. That gives you an idea of what things cost in this field. While underway, the boat burns close to a hundred gallons of diesel fuel an hour. Do the math at today’s prices and you come up with a steep number indeed. Nonetheless, the job has to be done and working with the High Roller was always a fun challenge. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to interview the owner, a fellow who is a real character. Stay tuned.

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Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Heavy Lifting

Once again, I was in the New York Harbor area, aboard a tugboat with the legendary Captain Silva. This time we tended to a few barge shifts than returned to Staten Island where there was a heavy lift operation underway. DonJon Marine moved in with their Chesapeake 1000 floating crane. This unit proceeded to lift a newly constructed floating drydock from the shipyard into the water. Here is a photo of the scene.

liftaThis can be a tricky procedure, full of pitfalls if the weather changes, something goes wrong, or simple human error. However, the job went easily enough. The drydock was lifted, the crane pivoted around, and then the drydock was set into the water like a dozen eggs in the fridge. It takes copious amounts of cooperation between the people on the ground and the fellow operating the crane, who may not be able to see everything, including obstacles in the way.

Just another way to travel and things to do. Great story material, too.

Old Tugboats Never Die

But they do sink! Sadly these two boats sank in a slip along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

They sat on the bottom for a while. Then a salvage crew hoisted them onto the pier using a massive floating crane. The Carol Wales is what’s known as a “railroad tug.” She was built by one of the railroads, probably in the 1930′s or 1940′s. The railroads used to have large marine departments. Railcars were loaded onto barges known as “car floats.” These car floats typically had three sets of tracks onto which the railcars where rolled and secured. Then the barges were towed across rivers and to a special type of bridge onto which the railcars could be unloaded and sent on their way. The Big Boy was a “navy hull,” meaning that it was built during World War II under a Defense Plant Contract. These tugs are sometimes referred to as DPC hulls.

That gash in the wheelhouse above was probably caused by one the cables strung under the tug by the salvage crew. It’s a shame for these old boats. They’re big and clumsy compared to their modern counterparts. However, they have proud lines and a long history. Trouble is, they’re obsolete.

They’re both single screw, having only one main engine and one propeller. Many ship owners want twin screw boats helping their vessels to the dock simply for the sake of reliability. This is especially true in the case of oil tankers.

That propeller on the left is about seven feet in diameter, which means the Carol Wales probably had an engine in the 1700 horsepower class. I worked with plenty of single screw boats and never had a problem. A good engineer and crew keeps things in reliable condition. And if you have an anchor, you drop the hook, fix what broke, and get on with the job. If not, well, chances are you’ll be in for plenty of misery that happens slowly enough that you can see it coming.

I’m glad to have taken these photographs. Both of these boats will be cut up for scrap iron in the next couple of weeks. Two more for the boneyard and a piece of history gone from the planet.

Published in: on September 6, 2008 at 11:24 am  Comments (1)  
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A View of the Lusitania

Since my novel, An Island Away, has a shipwreck scene in it, I was looking through various databases for information on such incidents. Here is one of those fantastic panoramic photos courtesy of the United States Library of Congress, perhaps one of the ultimate databases of all time. It is not of a shipwreck, but it is of a famous ship that sank in record time, 18 minutes according to some accounts. You cruise ship passengers might enjoy a view of the Lusitania, that famous liner that sank under mysterious circumstances. The incident helped move America into the First World War.

I’m not sure where this waterfront is. It may be New York or somewhere in England. I’m trying to find out, and when I do, I’ll update this post with the correct info. The only data I have is that the photo was taken at the “end of a record voyage.”

On the left side of the frame, in the corner of the slip, you’ll see a steam tug. This must have been quite a vessel, an actual wooden-hulled steam tug. Many of them went to the bottom with all hands after a boiler explosion. Hard work that was. Dangerous, too. I worked with a tugboat captain in Philadelphia. He told me both his uncle and his father were engineers back in the days of steam. He added that he became a captain because they died in explosions because as engineers they were below deck when disaster struck. Wise move on his part, eh? He was a skilled operator, knew all the old tricks and had some hand-made instruments for plotting speed against the tide for a given boat and barge combination. I adapted his methods and made one of my own, a sort of slide rule device. It was accurate enough to save me many hours and plenty of money. All this without a computer. Amazing.

Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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