Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Vinegar and Honey

This past week has been damn busy. Good to see, from a business perspective, that the Port of New York has been in need of bunker oil for ship traffic. This time of year also sees a lot more smaller oil parcels being handed out, as heating oil season kicks in and smaller tankers make the run north.
Under normal circumstances, we get shoved around by a lot of different tugboats. 95% of the time, it's one of our boats doing the work, but every now and again another company's boat will fill in while ours aren't available. We spent the weekend before last in that fashion.
For the past 7 days, we've been working with pretty much the same boat. Good people on that tug, some of the first people I got to know on a first-name basis when I joined this company almost 4 years ago (!).
The AB deckhand on this particular tug is a very decent man, about my age, maybe a little younger. We started at this company at roughly the same time. I remember the man well because he was being badly abused by his captain, the first time I encountered such behavior with my current employer.
I want to set the stage here and let you draw your own conclusions from it. Imagine things from my perspective- new hire in a new company, working with tugboats and tugboaters, which was completely new for me. I'm seriously impressed by how pleasant my new coworkers are, and, on a one-on-one basis especially, the proportion of nice people to work with is greater than at any other company I've worked for. The asshole factor is pretty low- a few guys with reputations, but nothing too bad.
Anyhow, one brand-new tugboat had a very talented captain; great boathandler, not a bad person in conversation, but he rode his greenhorn Ordinary Seaman like a donkey to market. This guy was nice enough with me, but to his deckhand he was outright abusive. I was shocked at the mean streak this guy dsplayed. And he got me involved. He'd call out to me as they were making up to my barge: "Look at this fuckin' guy. Hey! Numbnuts! Not like that! Jesus, who the fuck taught you how to throw lines? Are you retarded?" Then, and I remember this clear as a bell, he looks at me, and then down at the man on deck, catches the guy's eye, and says "You know, you can't fix being stupid."
As I mentioned, I was disgusted by the guy's behavior. The deckhand, inexperienced as he was, certainly didn't get any sort of constructive guidance by this- if anything, the guy was desperate to just get through the next 5 minutes without being completely castrated by the prick at the wheel.
Over the next year, I ran into these guys a dozen times or so. Always the same M.O. The captain yelled, called his deckhand 6 kinds of bad names, and the guy had to figure out what he was doing to make the captain unhappy purely by process of elimination. No advice, no guidance.
So, When I transferred to New York a year ago, I didn't see these guys anymore. The tug in question was mostly based in Philadelphia. About 6 months ago during crew change, I ran into the deckhand, however, who had transferred onto a smaller tug based up here, a tug populated by a particularly decent crew.
This past week, we've had this tugboat, with the crew I just wrote about, and it's been a pleasure to work with them. The deckhand who had taken all the abuse is now an experienced, highly trained part of the crew, a man that I certainly enjoy working with, and who has made mooring and unmooring a hell of a lot easier for me, along with being good company to pass the time with.
A cynic or a simpleton might be tempted to believe that it was the constant diet of abuse that made the man a better sailor, that the abusive yet talented captain made a seaman out of a greenhorn, but that's absolutely not the case. A peaceful environment where teaching and patient training put the shine on a deckhand who had been roughly formed. A happy coincidence of an open position on a happy boat allowed this guy to achieve his full potential.
You might not believe it, but the abusive captain has been trying to lure this deckhand in question back to Philadelphia. I certainly wasn't surprised. The guy's good. I can name this tune in 3 notes, anyhow. I'm sure that the captain would justify his behavior by saying that he wants his men to care about their job, and gets frustrated when people don't seem to care... but that's certainly a distortion of the way things are. Training a good tugboat deckhand takes time, years, really. Screaming and pointing without ever correcting isn't training. It's being an asshole.

I've yelled. I've complained. It's not fair to be abusive to a subordinate who can't really respond in kind without jeopardizing his job. I tend to cool off quickly. Point in fact, I'm kind of a prick to work for, from what I understand. I like things done in a seamanlike fashion, and I rarely miss anything out of place. I don't beat people like a rented mule, however, and neither should any other mariner.


doubletrouble said...

You're right in demanding "ship-shape & Bristol fashion", as are any of those who run boats.

But I was hoping the captain in question might have ended up over the side by the end of the story...

Paul, Dammit! said...

No, but for what it's worth, a few times I've been in perfect position to 'put another log on the fire,' which is a euphemism for using the incinerator toilet we've got on board, which does a fine job of sending up stinky smoke signals.