VHF-FM Ch. 13: “Penn No.4 approaching Hunt’s Point towing a light one,…..
…..westbound for the Gate.”
This is what we refer to as having the barge shortened up to Gate length. That is, the length you’d want a light-barge tow at for (normally) westbound transits through the Hell Gate in New York City’s East River. Most of the time, weather permitting, this is done somewhere in the vicinity of Execution Rocks in the far western end of Long Island Sound. Only a complete lunatic would try towing a loaded oil barge through the East River, but flotillas of scows and the occasional container barge get towed through. With too much wire out and a strong fair current the barge is liable to try passing you, and currents can exceed 5 knots in the Gate. Sometimes barges will yaw wildly and then dive to one side or the other without warning. You just never know. In my experience container barges were always the worst, especially since the longshoremen usually loaded them flat (at best) and often down at the head.
When breaking in new mates (or anyone with no experience going through the Gate) the old rule of thumb for teaching them how not to lose their nerve goes like this: “Whatever you do, don’t look back.” It can get really ugly back there, what with all the currents and eddies making the barge behave wildly, so it’s better not to let yourself be distracted by what’s going on behind you. You can’t do anything about it anyway. You’ll either make it or you won’t, so don’t worry, be happy!
For more (much more!) on East River transits see this excellent post from Capt. Bill Brucato’s NY Tugmaster’s Weblog.
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