Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Let's go be tugboaters!

 Well shit fire and save on matches, I am beat up. 

      I got off the HQ last week, 7 days ago to be precise, and instead of going home, I was offered a cushy job as watchman on a hot-stacked tugboat. That is to say that it was an uncrewed tugboat that still had the generator on, and was ready to work once enough bodies showed up. And I got a dream gig to get a week's OT just to babysit.  That was nice, as I had planned to go home but OT is sometimes welcome, and OT for watching TV and reading books is doubly so. 

       My trip to tugboat Shangri-La lasted 4 hours. Port captain called and said that one of the tugs had a deckhand couldn't keep awake on watch who was sent ashore in infamy and shame, and given that we're always short on bodies in my place of employ, I got called up to be deckhand. 

     I am much too old and sedentary to be a tugboat deckhand by choice. First off, while I was once a damn good AB  (Able-Bodied seaman) that was 15 years ago last time I had any practice, and that practice had never taken place on a tugboat. I was a ship AB, a different animal. 

 Oh, there's no real difficulty there, an AB is supposed to be an AB, much of a muchness. But the past is a whole different country, and we tend to view it with a rosy tint. I knew enough to leave my ego at home, but it takes a bit of a bite down to have to admit that you need direction when it comes to doing some truly basic shit.  Coiling lines, splicing, anyone can do that. Throwing lines, making up, making off, tugboat linehandling, something I watched our tugboat crews do without truly seeing what they did or the effort involved... whole other thing. 

   So, turns out that the bulwarks on a tugboat up forward, at least the one I am on while waiting for my relief today, come up to about halfway up my ribcage. Linehandling, almost all of it, has to take place above that height. 

    Turns out, prior to this past week, the heavy part of linehandling has been something I've done from a height below the waist. This is pertinent in that it means I use my core muscles to help drag and handle heavy stuff... and really, the labor part of my job on the HQ involves hauling VERY heavy weights, like say the last 12 feet of a  6" black oil hose end, which is around 300-400lbs,  very short distances, mostly by dragging them.  And on tugs I am handling hawsers, which are lighter but actually fairly heavy, passing them and wrapping them around bitts and such that are at eye height.   This shifts strain from my core to my shoulders, something I am not used to.  I was damn sore the first 3 days aboard, and there's a twinge at the base of my neck that still ain't gone away yet. 

          Aside from seamanship tasks, I had housekeeping chores that took up an hour a day. Emptying the dishwasher, cleaning up after dinner, taking out trash, disinfecting and dusting surfaces and tidying up the wheelhouse, shining stuff. Domestic, not a problem. 

      I had much more fun than expected with the crew. The captain is someone I knew a bit, and proved to have a good sense of humor, thank God, choosing to laugh at me rather than fuss when I turned up a bit of linehandling into a cat's cradle situation, and the other deckhand is a workhorse with a great sense of humor, who had no problem whatsoever with helping me and also doing some remedial teaching. Also, a great cook. We all ate well. 

    The accommodations are tugboat standard, which is to say I shared a room with the other deckhand since one of us must be awake and on watch at all times, so I had the room to myself. I had the top bunk, and it was a bit tight, my nose being about 16 inches from the overhead when I was lying in bed. Still, not terrible. 

     A tugboat being engines with a small steel shell built around them, it's noisy. I was amazed, truly, that I could sleep after a couple of days. I guess you can really get used to anything, and turns out when the engines are running, you can't hear the other people or the annoyingly ever-on galley TV, so I actually slept better after day 4 with the engines running. 

 And now here I am, waiting for my relief to show up so I can go back to the office, take a shower and go to the airport and go home... for 6 days. Back to the HQ then. 

 The past week has given me new appreciation for the tugboaters I work with for sure. It was nice to be part of a crew in many ways, rather than being the guy who signs the papers and swings valves.  It was a mental break in that my tasks were elemental and there was less higher brain function. Not that there's tons of mental heavy lifting in my regular job, but there are more opportunities and responsibilities than what I had this past week. So that was nice. 

   It was hard on the ego, though. I don't like that I wasn't a really good deckhand and needed extra supervision. Still, I improved as the week went on. I hope that the impression I left isn't "Oh Jesus, thank you that that guy's gone." 

 It'll be nice to return to my more familiar job next week. But I have no regrets about this past week, beyond that I didn't get to sit on my ass and get paid and had to work up some sweat. 

No comments: