Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ode to Cordage

So, it's time to order some new hawsers here on board HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Temple of Masculine Ideals.

     Mooring lines take up a lot of headspace in the bunker trade. We swap out tugboats constantly, and the cadre of experienced New York-based tugboaters is in high demand for their skills. While NY doesn't have the ripping giant tides of New England, neither does anywhere else in the lower 48, and compared to the docile rivers and bays of the south, where the current might be fast but is predictable, New York's rivers, bays and harbors are a crucible that purifies the skills of a tugboater, forcing the dross out.
 Or, you know, forcing employers to pay for all the destruction the dross causes, which is also a strategy.

 Well, we have a diverse bunch of tugboaters in our stable. The NY-based guys are in great demand, as they can moor and unmoor without crashing, or at least with controlled crashing.  The Out-Of-Towners are more variable. Some are excellent boathandlers no matter where they are. Others are just wrecking ball operators, treating their tugs like a Peloponnesian war galley.

A former Chesapeake Bay fisherman gently brings his tugboat alongside another vessel in Stapleton Anchorage NY

          So, for a couple of reasons, we've been having a lot of out-of-town tugboats moving us about in the past few weeks... and it shows. I think I spliced 3-4 lines after parting them in the last two years. Last week I spliced 8, including a few lines that I had just respliced the day before. Same fucking guy did it, too. He's not getting a goddam Christmas card from anyone on here this year, I can tell you that much. And before you read too much into that, bear in mind that I am not a tugboater. I was pretty decent doing the funky stuff from the wheel of a ship, a very different animal, and under the eye of a master,  and now I speak and critique from the comfort of my barge, and occasionally from the wheel of a private or workboat that is emphatically NOT shoving a floating bomb around in swirling current. I have seen some AMAZING boathandling these last 10 years. But I live on that floating bomb, and it falls on me to fix other people's oopsies, which as you might imagine, gets pretty old, especially when we have to wonder if someone in the office hates us.

 So, ropes. Yeah.  We have a lot of those, and prematurely aging lately.  One funny thing about tugs and barges is that mooring is often self-serve. There is often no dockman to catch your lines and put them on the bitts and bollards. As a result, a lighter line can be thrown further, which is very helpful, but a lighter line generally doesn't have the ass to deal with the force generated by current, prop wash and momentum.  I speak generally, as there are lightweight lines that are enormously powerful (Spectra for example), but often expensive and prone to easy chafing or UV damage. There are heavy lines that are enormously powerful, and affordable, too, with good stretching capability and with good chafe resistance, but too heavy to throw readily. Shoulder injuries have cut many deckhands careers' short, which makes the smart deckie unwilling to try for long-distance throws, which limits the utility of the lines.  There are strategies to mitigate this, of course, mixing lines by type and things like that, but outfitting cordage on a vessel is always a series of compromises between utility and cost.  Currently, we favor a lightweight synthetic line that is very strong, midpriced, but has little stretch modulus, which means that while sudden surges are fatal to the line, the line doesn't snap back much and thus is very safe for any person in the area. So we splice instead of going out on comp when Mr. Sulu up in the wheelhouse goes to ramming speed. A bit tough on the wallet, but easier on the insurance.  The downside is that we risk doing a brisk trade in cordage here on the HQ after times like last week.  So it goes, I guess, but we've all got 10 toes and 10 fingers on here still, although they're getting pretty callused from all the splicing.


leaperman said...

I never want to see synthetic line snapback again. EVER. I had a friend of mine get cut in two when we were both in the navy.

Comrade Misfit said...

The USN "snapback" video was pretty damn scary.