masthead picture of sunset in Alaska

Getting Started; How I ended up Towing

The Tug WESTERN TITAN, my current ride.
The WESTERN TITAN is my current ride.

Before Towing

Having grown up around boats and the water, I guess it's not too surprising that I ended up working and making my living on it. When I was in high school, I went to work on a fishing boat for my last summer vacation. I got a job on a purse seiner and went to Southeast Alaska. It was quite a summer, and when I finished school the following year, I got a job on another "seiner" fishing in the San Jaun Islands in the summer, and Puget Sound in the fall. Then I had gone out the Alaska Peninsula fishing. I loved fishing, but the industry was changing from what it had been when I was growing up, and dreamed of being a fisherman. I stayed in fishing for a number of years, but felt that I needed to find another direction to go.

Getting Started

Back then getting a job on a tugboat was very hard. You had to have a "Z-card" to get a job, and you had to have a job to get the card. Perplexing! I met the Captain of a tug that worked out in western Alaska mostly, and he was looking for a deckhand. I wasn't what he was looking for though, because I didn't have a Z-card and hadn't worked on tugs before. But, He liked that I had been "out west" and took a chance. He gave me a spot on the next trip to see if I could cut it. So I made my first tow on the Boyer Towing Co. tug MAIA H, and ended up going to Nome Alaska. Well, it worked out. After more than 20 years; I'm still out towing, looking over my shoulder to see what troubles me.

Boyer Towing's Tug MAIA H
Passing Boyer Towing's Tug MAIA H south of Ketchikan Alaska April 2009. The MAIA H is the first tug I worked on.

I worked at Boyer for two years. At the end of the second year, my grandmother passed away over Thanksgiving while I was out on a the boat towing. I was very close to my grandmother, and it was a very difficult event for me to have been gone during such an important time. I quit Boyer making up my mind that I was going to try to have a normal life on shore. I lasted about a year.

"The Rest of the Story"

I realized that I was a boat guy and would have to learn to live with it. Some people are meant for the real world and some aren't. I needed to decide where I was going to go. When I was at Boyer I remembered seeing these brightly colored tugs around. One thing that stood out in my mind was that they were usually passing someone, not the other way around. They had a smaller crew than most of the other tugs, and that made for talk. But they always looked good and well cared for.

There was also this rumor that they didn't have a cook, like a real tug is suppose to have. They had a bunch of freezers full of microwave meals and if you were hungry, you heated one up for yourself. Now on a tug, one of the most important positions is the cook. They have a huge influence on the crew and moral. If the cook is bad the boat suffers. The thought of not having a cook was amazing. So went in and bugged them until they hired me. The company was Western Towboat Co..

The boats were new. They were all well cared for. There were, and still are some really good cooks (my waist has suffered for it) here. Most importantly, the company had a drive and energy that I wasn't use to seeing. It came from the top, percolating it's way down through the company. Everyone worked hard to do their best. No one wanted to let the others down.

To say that Western Towboat (WTB) is a close, tight knit group is like saying that the Statue of Liberty is a just lawn ornament! When I got on the boat one of the first questions I was asked was who I knew to get the job. For most of it's history, the company hired people that were known and referred by someone already there. I was too dumb to know this, so I kept going into their office and checking to see if there was anything open. I guess that they got tired of pointing to the door and in a weak moment called me. Anyway, I was asked so many times "who I knew" that it made me a little nervous. At the time I started working there, I think I was about the only walk up in the company. I settled in to the "WTB way" soon enough and started a new chapter in my life.

I started out on deck; but with the time I had put in at Boyer, I was soon able to start working on getting my Merchant Mariners License. Within a year of starting to work at WTB I had my License and was sailing as Mate. I got to do a lot of different types of work. From harbor & assist work, to towing sand & gravel barges, to deck cargo barges with containerized freight, and oil & fuel barges. From Southern California to the Artic Circle and out to Hawaii, I've got to see a bit of water.

Time flew by, and in a desperate moment the company bumped me up to Captain. Since then I've mostly towed petroleum barges (which I'm not too fond of), and containerized freight barges (of which I am). These days I'm a freight guy for the most part, and still at Western Towboat. As of November 2009, I have been at Western for 20 years. At times it's hard to believe that it's been that long and they are still putting up with me.

Working freight at Skagway Alaska
Working a freight barge in Skagway Alaska-April 2009