Some people get it and some people don’t. Most don’t. And that’s one of the perennial problems for tug drivers: we are governed largely by those who’ve never felt The Pull and therefore have a great deal of trouble understanding what is really going on aboard a tug with a barge close behind it, a towboat flanking a big 6-pack tow around a horseshoe bend on the Mississippi with a fair current, or a tractor tug trying to keep a VLCC under control. From the regulators who set the experience, training and licensing standards to the trade associations that presume to speak for the whole industry to the educational institutions that offer the training, first-hand knowledge of The Pull is scarce and this has negative effects throughout the system.
A true understanding of the dynamics of towing another vessel, or assisting a ship, is something that you gain by doing and the sensation of being attached to a large moving mass (under power or not) and feeling the inertia and heel move through your vessel and body is a major part of that learning curve. Probably the most important part of all. If you have to ask what The Pull is then you’ve obviously never felt it. Even the very best simulators can’t duplicate it. So it’s exceptionally rare for someone to be able to use their own non-towing seafaring experience as a base from which to focus keen observation and analytical skills on that which they haven’t done themselves. Capt. Marc Van de Velde, the Belgian skipper of a dredger with 25 years of experience, is one such individual. He gets it.
How do I know this having never met, let alone worked with, the man? By reading his recent post On the dangers of tug use on his blog, The Art of Dredging. We’ve had it on our Blogroll since our start last September after finding it on the gCaptain Daily Blog, and its quality was immediately apparent.
Experience, even directly relevant experience, and true understanding don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. It all depends on the person. They may have a great depth of knowledge and experience (in a particular niche) but no breadth (into other fields within the marine industry). Or much breadth but little depth. And sometimes little or none of either. I’ve had more than one white-knuckle experience at the hands of pilots who didn’t seem to understand (or, possibly, care) at all how their various actions with the ship would effect the tugs assisting them. And, likewise, I’m sure every pilot has at one time or another cursed with gusto while some unskilled, amateurish tug driver cluelessly screwed up their plans and endangered the ship and everyone involved in the move. The level of understanding from the regulatory agencies is often suspect at best.
I wish there were more keen minds like Capt. Van de Velde out there. The money quote from his About me page: “There is no use for experience if it is not shared with others. And there is no real excuse not to share it.” Thanks again, Cap, you’re the real deal.
And that leads directly to Capt. Bill Brucato’s closely related piece from the NY TUGMASTER’S WEBLOG.
Editors Note: for further reading on the dangers of capsizing/tripping/girting a tug, Capt. Van de Velde’s post should be read along with these previous posts here on the Towmasters Forum.
We also have the investigation report on the capsizing of the AHTS Bourbon Dolphin at the bottom of our Accident Reports page. Check it out.