A couple days after arriving home from Alaska, my phone rang and the office called and wanted me on a tug Southbound to SF Bay two days later. I was home just long enough to mow the grass, clean out the gutters, do a few honey do’s and repack my bag.
Our job consisted of towing the gigantic derrick crane barge, D.B. General, to SF Bay where it would be used to salvage the derelict sternwheeler “Spirit of Sacramento”. She had seen better days and has quite the storied past including being previously owned and used in a film by John Wayne. Read more of her history here: Spirit of Sacramento.
So we crewed up at 2300, loaded and stowed all of the stores and supplies for a midnight departure from the yard. The chief engineer was struggling with one of the Caterpillar engines running for around 20 seconds and then shutting down. It was determined that a sensor had gone bad and he went about changing it out. Once the repair was completed the same problem persisted and the port engineer (now onboard) and the chief decided the issue was more complex and in the effort to remain on schedule we would take another tug instead. We spent the next couple hours shifting all of our personal equipment and clothes, groceries that had already been put into the freezers / reefers and boxes thrown away, ships supplies etc to the new tug. It was a huge undertaking for a quick departure and everyone was spent. Then we got underway for the 2 hour run to Seattle to get fuel. We arrived about the time I should be getting off watch and we fueled for about 4 – 5 hours. Then we met our barge as it was brought out of the river to us. We made up and got underway and I managed about a 60 minute nap before my next watch.
Transferring all of our stuff to the Polar Ranger.
I crashed after watch and skipped dinner to get caught up on some sleep. On my next Midnight watch from 12-0400 we were just approaching the western end of the Straights of Juan De Fuca and the forecasts offshore really weren’t looking good. As my watch ended and I racked out, we turned the corner into the Pacific and proceeded to get our asses kicked. Forget about sleeping as all effort was spent just holding on. During the next watch at noon I shot al little video. The seas and winds had come down quite a bit at this point but we were still getting worked.
After the storm of the first night, the weather was awesome! We put out the hand lines hoping to catch some fresh albacore on the steam south, but didn’t get a nibble.
We had several encounters with massive swarms of porpoises swimming with us and playing in our bow wake. It is a fairly common thing to see these guys while underway in the ocean.
It took us three days to get to SF Bay and we pulled in under the Golden Gate in perfect conditions. It’s always cool passing under the bridge, Alcatraz and the skyline of SF. We towed the barge up the Sacramento River to Vallejo, which is where Cal Maritime is located. We dropped our barge off to the contractor so they could complete rigging the crane for the salvage job. The next morning two Westar tugs came and got the barge and took her upriver to the job site. We were bummed that we wouldn’t be able to be involved with the operation or even see it. The contractor said they would be back in three days so we laid at a deep water site across the river from where we delivered the barge. It was another contractor who offered to let us tie up at their facility as it has sufficient water depth. They also gave us keys to one of their yard trucks! That was totally cool of them and allowed us to get out around Vallejo a little bit. A note about Vallejo…….it’s a pretty run down rough area. Don’t plan a family vacation there…ever.
So what’s an AB supposed to do while tied to a dock and the sun is shining? Break out the painting shit and get to work. We also serviced all of the on board safety equipment and ran the emergency dewatering pump.
On our last day of waiting, myself and the second mate, took the truck over to Cal Maritime for a tour. The mate is a graduate of the Maine Maritime workboat program and I probably looked like his father. The people at Cal Maritime were very gracious and gave us a full tour even though I made it clear that we weren’t going to be enrolling. I think the most fun I had was wearing my new “Hawespipin Ain’t Easy” shirt around the campus. The shirt was a gift from a fellow maritime blogger when I passed by mate exams earlier this summer. Please go check out his selection of shirts and get one for yourself from Workboatwear. The campus of Cal Maritime is really nice and the facility is really nice. It’s too bad the town doesn’t match. We toured the engineering labs, simulators (weren’t in operation), the classrooms, the training ship “Golden Bear”, the bookstore and had a nice lunch in the cafeteria. When I was getting out of high school I had no idea an option like this existed. For a young person wishing to go to sea, I would suggest this type of route. It will give you a huge head start over hawespiping along with a degree.
Three days later our barge returned and the contractor crew spent some time stowing all of their gear and lashing everything for us to tow her back to Seattle. The trip north was uneventful and the weather was superb.
All in all a great trip with a great crew and it ended up being a total of 14 days.