“Hey, Ivan are you ready to go yet?” asked the Captain
Ivan looked around and smirked before saying “I’ve been
ready to go, there’s just a lot of other shit I gotta do before we leave.”
“So you’re not ready,” he replied the Captain, before
banging his closed fist on the bulkhead and storming out of the engine room.
Ivan shook his head and looked back down at the lock-out
tag-out log, the smile quickly fading from his face.
Topside, the frustrated Captain busied himself pacing back
and forth between the pilot house and the aft deck, looking angry.
The tug El León had been moored up by pier 21 in Honolulu
for the past week, waiting to tow a barge back to San Diego.
According to the plan they should’ve already been half way back
to California, but the barge was tied up for an extra week on a construction
project behind Ford Island. It wasn’t the Captains fault, but he would be the
one to pay for it.
At least that’s how he felt.
He was on salary, but caught a bonus for each successful run
with is tug.
There was no benefit to wasting a week.
“Hey, Kim.” Ivan said
as he climbed up into the pilot house.
“What’s up Ivan?” She
“I think I’m ready to
pull the tags down there, but wanted to check with you first,” he said.
Kim nodded her head
in agreement and then followed Ivan down the narrow ladder. The two quickly
walked around the weather deck and into the door leading to the engine room.
The engine room was
quiet except for the low hum of the ventilation; Ivan’s heavy boots fell loudly
on the deck plates.
“Check it out,” he
said to Kim, giving her the log.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked the quarterdeck watch
“Meh, don’t worry about it. I’ll be back.” Replied Brian as
he scurried across the flight deck towards the gangway.
“You know liberty expires in like four hours, right?” said Jorge.
It was about three-hundred hours, and the Chase was going to
depart Quetzal that afternoon. Brian knew this, but wanted to make the most of
the short portcall.
“Like I said, don’t worry man.” He yelled, disappearing off
of the ship.
That fucker is going to
miss movement, thought Jorge as he reviewed the plan of the day.
Coast Guard Cutter Chase was one port call away from
finishing up a South Patrol, and many in the crew were anxious to return home. It
had been a busy patrol, and the ship had only a few port calls.
Mechanically, it had been a rough trip. The warm waters off
of the coast of Central America were not good for the aging machinery inside
the ships engine room. SouthPat’s are always like that for the ships.
As the vessel sat there quietly waiting to get underway, the
tug El León was making similar preparations four-thousand miles to the west.
“Alright,” said Kim as she handed a pre-sail log sheet to
Brian. “We’re as ready as we are going to be.” She finished hesitantly.
“Good, we should be pulling away from the dock in an hour.” Replied
Leaning on the window at the back of the pilot house, she
looked around nervously before saying “but you know I still need to say this.”
“Say what?” he asked with obviously false sincerity.
“We really shouldn’t get underway in this condition. I mean,
the air receiver needs to be overhauled.” Said Kim.
“We can fix it while we’re out there.”
The barge that they
were going to be pulling to San Diego was moored up to the pier, and sitting
idly. There appeared to be some gear and equipment out, and as El León pulled
up to it, Captain Younger slouched in his chair.
“What the fuck is
this?” Asked angrily.
There was no reply in
the quiet pilot house.
“We’re supposed to be
pulling that thing away today, but that’s never gonna work with all of that
gear on the deck.” He said.
“Listen, I’ll just go
over there and check it out.” Said his all too eager mate.
“In the space, starting number two diesel generator.” Said
Emily as her voice echoed through the tinny engine room speakers.
THPT. . . THPT. . . THPT. . THPT. THPT.THPT.THPT. CHHHHHHHHHHH
The engine room erupted into a low roar as the quiet diesel
engine came to life.
Backing away from the air start, she made made a quick round
of the generator and headed back into main control.
“Well, are you going to do it or are you going to make me
shift from ship to shore power?” she asked, looking at the other watch stander
standing by the throttles.
Living in one of the bluest counties of one of the bluest
states, it’s not often that I find my vote for a candidate to be statistically
significant. And although this was only a primary election, I know this vote
was actually significant.
I like knowing that
my kids will grow up mostly not remembering a time when only old white men
could become the President of the U.S. So, for me it was a very amazing moment
when Hillary Clinton stood at the podium announcing her victory, knowing that I
was in some way able to contribute to that.
It was a mess on the barge, loosely arranged gear was
scattered all over the deck and half of the tanks were open. Knowing that they
needed to be making way a half-hour ago, Captain Younger tasked his crew to
board the barge and make the best of the disheveled items.
The air was hot and there was no shade to be found on the
flat deck, which was painted black.
The Mate took charge of the operation, directing the other
deck hands and engineers to tie this bottle down or drag these cords to the
center of the deck.
“Well that was pointless,” said Ivan as he looked around the
center of the deck.
“Why’d you say that?” Asked the Mate.
“Well, it’s still a mess up here, isn’t it?” he replied.
“Honestly it looks okay from over here.” Said the Mate, pulling
Ivan by the elbow towards the stern of the barge.
From the new vantage point Ivan scanned the now tied down
field of tools and equipment. It wasn’t perfect, but everything appeared to be
secure for sea. The welded tie-downs were very handy for that.
“Suppose you’re right. If you can’t tie a knot,” finished Ivan.
“Now the morning meal is being served,” boomed the 1MC
throughout the ship.
Emily looked up from the clipboard she was carrying to check
jacket water temperature for the generator. Seeing that it was within parameters,
she jotted down the numbers and moved to the next gauge.
They better be sending
down a relief for chow, she thought.
Up on the Quarterdeck, Jorge was looking over the plan of
the day, noting that liberty expired in an hour.
“Hey, have you seen Brian?” he asked of his chow relief.
“You mean the MK2?” replied the relief.
“Yea, him.” Said Jorge.
While the engineers down below continued to make the Chase
ready to get underway, Brian was making his way back to the pier from San Jose.
It was a short port call, and liberty was set to expire at 1000 for all hands.
Before the Chase could get underway, the Main Diesel Engines
needed to be warmed up and all shore services needed to be disconnected.
Fuel was transferred and the potable water tanks were topped
off, giving Brian just enough time to make it back to the ship before missing
And at 1100 they set Special Sea Detail.
“How are we doing?” asked Captain Younger, as he saw Kim
come up the ladder into the pilot house through the reflection in the window.
“We’re doing.” She replied, not telling him the truth that
he didn’t want to hear, but already knew.
“Good, that’s what I figured.” He said uncomfortably.
The tug was making the turn out of the inner harbor and
getting closer to open water, with the barge in tow.
“You know what I want to say right now?” Asked Kim, looking over the Captain’s shoulder.
“Yep, I do.” He said, simultaneously acknowledging and
denying her request.
The tug and barge had just passed the entrance to Pearl Harbor
and made the turn to starboard, when the first heavy roll of the sea took the
pair from the bow.
It was going to be a slow trip back to California and they
might catch some heavy weather along the way. A heavy weather line was used to
keep the barge attached to the tug and everyone settled in to their underway
Outside of the harbor the speed was brought up to eight
knots and the dull rumble of the engines could be felt throughout the tug.
Once underway, the Chase made a heavy straight track to the
There would be no box cutting during this transit, as the
ship and crew were scheduled to sail straight through to San Diego and off-load
ammunition prior to a shipyard visit up north. Although there was some rough
weather between Quetzal and San Diego, it was nothing that would keep the Chase
from meeting the schedule.
As Brian, a MK2, walked across upper level of the engine
room, he could feel the slight roll of the sea. Both main diesel engines were
running, they were definitely underway now.
About a day out into open water, Kim was standing on the aft
deck of the tug looking over the bulwarks and towards the barge. It was early
afternoon and the sun was shining brightly off of the surface of the Pacific
“How are we looking in the engine room?” asked Brian as he
walked up next to Kim.
“No different than yesterday, and definitely not good.” Replied
Kim, as she continued to look toward the barge, squinting from bright
“Meh, but you guys will get it. There’s nothing but time
between here and California.” He said, smiling.
“I don’t know about this,” said Ivan as he held the thin gasket
in his hand.
“Well, that makes two of us. We should’ve never fucking left
until this was fixed.” Said Kim sharply.
Ivan awkwardly shrugged his shoulders as he carefully placed
the gasket into position on the compressor. The deep scarring and tear was
keeping compressor from pressurizing the air receiver consistently.
“It work’s some of the time, but it’s only a tiny bit away
from complete failure.” Said Kim. “And then what’ll we do? This is the only
system on the boat that isn’t redundant right now.”
The sky was overcast and the sea was steel gray as the Chase
pushed along the whitecaps. The ship pitched as it crested each subsequent
The Cutter was following in the track of a storm as it moved
up the coast towards San Diego, but was gaining on the rough weather, which was
a big change from the calm seas they had left behind in Guatemala.
The end of a patrol is always rushed, everyone looking
towards homeport and stand down. At this point most of the crew had already
checked out and were ready to leave the boat.
“Anything new?” asked Jorge as he closed the door to the
“Nope, nothing new.” Replied the watch stander, who was sitting
to the left of the door.
“I suppose that’s good, it’s too late in the patrol for
anything new. Right?” said Jorge.
She nodded in response as he walked further into the shop.
It was quiet and over air-conditioned in the electronics
shop. The slight pitch of the sea could hardly be felt that low and centered in
the ship, and Jorge made his way to the unoccupied computer in the far corner
of the shop.
Four days into the transit from Honolulu the tug El León
began to hit some rough weather, with the waves at a steady height of seven
feet. It was still clear, but clouds were to the east and the sky was a
brilliant red as the sun sank below the horizon.
The storm that the Chase was following up the coast lie
directly ahead of the small tug and its crew.
Sea going tugs are designed to complete passages in poor
weather, and the El León was no exception.
But with a heavy barge in tow it was less capable.
“Hey man, it doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot of freeboard
left on that barge.” Said Ivan, only half joking.
“It’s the seas, not good for a big old flat bottomed barge
out here.” Said the mate.
The two stood on the second deck, overlooking the towing
winch and deck gear that was keeping the barge tied behind the El León. Although
it definitely wasn’t good weather for that barge, Ivan could tell that it was
more than just a bad ride.
“I don’t know, seems like more than just shitty weather,
that thing’s scary looking.” Said Ivan nervously.
“Damnit Brian, we really need to get back to that barge.”
Said Kim, as she wiped the rain water from her face and rubbed her glasses.
“Alright, maybe.” Replied Brian.
“No seriously, it’s not going to make a good sea anchor. Go
look.” Finished Kim, angrily.
And as the two made their way out of the pilot house to look
at the barge, a series of heavy swells rolled past the tug and smashed over the
bow of the barge, putting a huge strain on the heavy weather line connecting
“There’s no way that’s going to sink Kim.”
“We’ll be home soon enough,” said Brian, as he braced
himself against the bulkhead in the electrician shop, just forward of the
“Yea, but this is always the worst part of the patrol for
me.” Said Saadia, one of the ships Electrician Mates.
“Why’s that?” Asked Brian, moving to the empty chair in
between the movements of the ship.
“It’s the anticipation, coupled with the fact that with each
passing hour something could go wrong and keep us from getting back to port on
time.” Replied Saadia.
“That’s dumb,” Said Brian after thinking about it for a
The Chase continued to follow the storm north through the
Pacific, riding directly in its turbulent wake.
As the ship rolled and pitched through the water, the crew patiently
continued standing watch and running through the daily routine. Anxious to
return to home port, most everyone onboard was just counting the days, or meals, until the liberty bell rang.
In both the radio room and CIC there was no sign of other
vessels in the area, as if the storm cleared the path home.
As the sky grew dark, the foamy wake of the ship stretched
into the distant horizon.
“Fine, you’re right. I’ll turn her around so we can go and
check out the condition of the barge,” said Captain Younger, as he wiped the
slight drizzle off of his glasses.
“Thank you,” replied Kim.
Captain younger wandered up to the pilot house, to instruct
the Mate to pull back on the throttle and come back around to the barge.
“Alright, we’re going to have to go check out the barge,”
said the Captain to the Mate, leaning against the cluttered chart table.
“Okay,” replied the mate, as he eased the throttle, causing
the tugs engine to stall out.
Without the engines running the tug grew silent very quick.
The difference between making way and being dead in the
water was stark, and Kim could tell what was happening immediately. Running up
to the pilot house, she asked what they were doing when it stalled.
At the same time, Ivan, who was in the engine room trying to
get the air compressor to work stopped what he was doing. In a heartbeat he was
over at the air receiver closing all of the valves, trying to save what
pressure was left in the tank.
There was only ninety pounds.
“What the fuck do you mean we can’t start the engine?” Ask
the Captain, hollering at Ivan in the engine room.
“I mean that we only have ninety pounds of pressure in the
air receiver, and I don’t think that’ll be enough to turn the thing over.” He
The tug rocked violently as the storm pushed the drifting
ship freely from side to side.
“Well, aren’t you going to try it!” Demanded the Captain.
“Once Kim gets down here I’ll give it a shot maybe.”
“Because we might not get another shot at it.” Said Ivan
“Mayday Mayday!” Yelled the mate into the radio by the chart
table, as the waves violently rocked the tug.
“Did you do it?” Asked Kim expectantly.
“It’s done, but I don’t know if anyone else is listening.”
“Shit, gotta try though. Go throw the EPIRB in the water.”
Somewhere not far away an anxious watch stander, sitting on
the bridge of a Coast Guard Cutter acknowledged to the transmission.
Shit, he thought
as he passed the details along.
And without any delay, the Chase came about and put her bow
into the waves towards the tug.
“Damnit, didn’t work!” Ivan yelled, as he tried to make the
compressor create pressure in the receiver.
“Alright, let me try then.” Said Kim, wiping the sweat away
from her face, and started unbolting the cylinder head.
Without the air compressor there would be no engine, and
without the engine the sinking barge would soon drag the El Leon towards the
bottom of the Pacific.
It was a chilly morning, as the Chase continued looking for
the tug, too rough to launch the helo.
The Search turning up nothing more than an empty life raft
in the cold grey expanse.