Dinosaur in action: the Zachery Reinauer, built in 1971 at the Matton Shipyard as the Mobil No. 1 (hull #339), transitions from pushing ahead to towing astern in the upper end of Stapleton Anchorage…..
…..then heads outbound in the Narrows for Ambrose Channel and sea. This a real hawser boat, as in fiber-line hawser, and there aren’t too many of these left anymore, let alone mariners skilled enough to run and deck them.
A couple of days later they’re back from Philly. They flop around around and pick up the now-empty 338’x70′ barge RTC-501 alongside just below Bay Ridge Anchorage, head up the main channel, turn hard to starboard above the #32 buoy,…..
…..then cross over the top of the anchorage and shoot the narrow cut with it into Erie Basin.
Unless it is slack water, with no wind, you can’t slowly and carefully feel your way in because the elements will quickly take control of you. The currents set directly across the mouth on both the flood and the ebb, with the flood running right against the outer end of the cut and the ebb “shutting down” a barge length or two outward from it. A short, partially-submerged rock jetty marked with a dayboard and a dim light indistinguishable against the background lights of Brooklyn marks the south side, and a crumbling bulkhead guards the north side. To make it you must have significant headway on (generally 4-6 knots, possibly more, in or out) for maintaining steerage and momentum, adjusting as you go all the while. Basically, you have to just go for it with the confidence that you’ll manage it one way or another, and it’s definitely much more of an art than a science.
Once through the inner end of the cut inbound an immediate 45-degree turn to starboard must be negotiated, often with a cross wind, and then you’ve got to parallel park the barge. You might have to turn the barge completely around to do it and the basin has limited maneuvering room, with the ruins of old piers, shoal areas and all manner of barges and scows taking up space, even under the best of conditions and in broad daylight. You may or may not have an assist tug to help you. This operating environment demands considerable nerve, and overall it’s an acquired skill that not everyone can acquire. Like all other critical skills for operating a tug or towboat, it absolutely can’t be learned in 30 days.
I’ve experienced many of my finest white-knuckle moments piloting through that cut, a serious adrenaline rush that you always get no matter how many times you do it. With a strong north wind and a maximum ebb current it’s not uncommon to have to hold a 30-45 degree “angle of attack” relative to the axis of the cut as you “crab” your way over to it, and you literally have to “wiggle” your way through. Watching others do it can itself be pretty scary; it often looks as if they’ll never make it. Then they do…..
For more on Erie Basin and the captains and mates of Reinauer, Brown and Buchanan that routinely pilot in and out of there see Capt. Bill Brucato’s post Erie Basin Cut, New York Harbor at his NY Tugmaster’s Weblog.
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