In the 5 years (!) I've been writing online, in both this blog and BLUE WATER, its' predecessor, I've made the mistake of airing dirty laundry only once, but it came back hard to bite me on the ass, so I write this post with a little trepidation and a LOT of editing. Be warned.
Although I wasn't involved (this time), there has been some dust kicked up as of late by one personality here on NY harbor. Not every evolution can go smoothly, and not all personalities mesh together- When tug operator and tankerman on watch can't agree with the best and safest way to moor a barge to a ship, compromise isn't always possible, and the evolution can devolve into a pissing match in which the potential for trouble exists, where it isn't strictly controlled by a team-effort approach to safely mooring the vessel.
Tankermen have a set goal in mind with mooring a bunker barge to a ship- a fueling hose has to be able to pass to the ship's manifold connection, mooring lines have to not interfere with the operation of the barge and an equal strain applied to all lines, which means the barge must be kept relatively snug to the ship. This means that, effectively, that spring lines and breasting lines have to both be effectively and thoughtfully placed- headlines, of course, are nice, and optimally, headlines can be placed to act as breasting lines where possible, in that their primary role as shock-absorbers to motion can be rove to advantage by creating a more obtuse angle between the headline and the mooring point on the barge. Again, this is an ideal, and not always possible, as it's rare to find a ship that is rigged to moor a barge alongside properly. For me, headlines that are actually run properly are a rare treat. More often, compromisory configurations are employed. So long as the end result is safe and effective, the configuration isn't as critical so long as the end results in a secure arrangement that won't kill anyone or result in a breakaway if one mooring line is lost.
For the tugboat operator, priorities shift somewhat. The tug operator has to make a controlled crash landing against a ship while dealing with currents and wind. Once in the neighborhood of the ship's hull, presumably the tug captain wants to gain positive control of the barge with a line secured to the ship, so that the tug and barge unit can be moved into position by slowly slacking the mooring line(s). In the meanwhile, the tug captain is trying not to poke holes in the ship with the barge, or sweep the bow of the barge under the turn of the bilge in the ship (or swing the tug under the ship's bilge, too, for that matter, if they're so pointed). The truth is that I'm not a tugboat person. I can handle a boat well enough, and even a ship, for that matter, but tugboats, no. I'm not an expert there.
So, when a pissing contest erupts between tankerman and tug captain, the first thing that comes to mind for me is who is officially in charge? A loose tug and barge, the tug master is the master, period. When a barge is moored to a ship, the tankerman on watch starts to assume more responsibility, and here's where trouble starts when there's a disagreement.
I'm a firm believer in going along to get along. I don't like to fan flames when there's headaches. Ultimately, the tug operator has a hard job to do, and I want everyone to collect a paycheck and continue on as before. BUT, what if the tug operator hasn't put the barge in a position where it can be safely moored? This was a recent issue for a co-worker of mine. The first document that the tankerman has to sign attests that the barge is safely moored. But what if it isn't? Either the tankerman must hope for the best, or he has to take control of the situation. In a recent incident, the tug operator ordered the tankerman to run a breasting line in such a way that it would impede the movement of equipment on the barge. The tankerman, who was already taking umbrage at being told how to do his job, refused, citing a safety issue, and a disagreement ensued. So it goes.
Ultimately, a disagreement that can't be settled in situ represents a failure on one or both parties to find an optimal solution. Worse, by dragging outside parties into the mix, it shows that one of the personalities involved doesn't know how to do his job well. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons, or, in the best case, a failure in perspective. When this issue begins to show up repeatedly with one of the parties, however, it may be troubling for both morale and efficiency. This troubling issue comes with a cascade of effects, however. In the case of a marked personality conflict where an individual repeatedly comes into conflict in operational evolutions, the downstream effects can be used to point to the source of the problem. In the case of a tug captain with a reputation for being inflexible or unwilling to take input from tankermen, the tug's deckhands may be reluctant to pass information along to the captain from lookouts, for example, knowing that the captain will ignore any external input. This leads to information gaps, of course, and a disconnect between people meant to be working as a team. For a tankerman who views the tug's master as merely a set of hands to move the barge, it may be possible to ask for the impossible, or to forget that an experienced mind is also watching the mooring operation from behind the windows; for my part, the tug crew has corrected me several times in making small mistakes, or has pointed out better ways of doing things; this is the benefit of a team environment. When a hardhead is involved, however, and looking for a pissing contest, quality control goes out the window.