October 6th, 2010 / 11:18 am
Craft Notes

Well That’s Interesting: Boats

Meanwhile, life continues to rule.

On Saturday I talked to a guy who runs a Tug Boat. He was on his tug boat and I was on a pier. They go out to sea for 2 weeks at a time. The boat goes 20 knots tops. A knot is 1.3 mph or something. A nautical mile is farther than your standard mile. Anyway, they are slow. It takes 12 hours to go from Baltimore to Philadelphia in a tug boat, which is 6 times longer than it takes to drive. His tug boat was built in 2006. To me it looked big but he said it was about average size. It was real clean because The Boy Scouts were going to check it out. 5 guys ride on that tug boat. One of them makes a meal everyday for everybody, the rest of the time it’s every man for himself. I didn’t ask if there are many girl tug boat guys. There probably are. He said they don’t park a lot of boats. What they do more than that is push fuel. Like how does the fuel get to NYC? A barge carries 50,000 tons of it or whatever, some tons, but in order to get that much up there in a boat that has its own power, the boat would have to be too deep. So instead you push it with a tug boat. The guy I was talking to was very patient with me as I asked him 100 questions, even though he looked like the kind of guy who I’d expect to make fun of my pants, or try and save people from the WTC. He’d been in the Navy, where he piloted a hovercraft. HOLY SHIT, a hovercraft. Don’t even ask me how many millions of pounds of pressure it exerts on the air per square foot. Those things, illegally, can go pretty fast. What are they for? They are for if you have to get a bunch of marines or hummers or mobile command units onto a beach in a hurry. I asked if they are very loud and he said yes they are. I asked if those boats over there across the harbor ever got used for anything. He said they were probably “(some word I can’t remember)” which meant they could have some thousand hummers and shit on there to deploy in a hurry in case they needed to, but generally they don’t get used for anything. I said no shit. He said maybe he was wrong, because he didn’t know how many of the hummers they had over there with Iraq and all. Then he had to move the gangplank with his mates so I said goodbye and I went on a coast guard ship. I squished the side of the orange away boat that they keep on the ship in case they need a smaller boat to work on buoys. You know the kind of boat I mean, the one with the big tubular sides. I always wondered if those sides were squishy or pretty firm, and in this instance it was squishy. The coast guard guy didn’t have his shirt tucked in and I wondered if that was okay but I didn’t want to ask him. He’d been in the coast guard for 14 years but he didn’t look that old. He had a pretty tight mustache. They usually don’t use the gears and shit because the captain prefers to use autopilot. The boat drives itself, they just punch in the location. I don’t know how big the boat was but I jumped a few times and couldn’t rock it. I’d say it was maybe 100 feet long. There’s an area in the back that they can use for relaxing but they never do because they are always busy.

There’s life going on and I never think about almost all of it. I try to remember that and being reminded of it is one of my favorite things to find in books and so on.



  1. Tim Horvath

      Thanks, Adam. I met a guy not long ago that commandeered a tugboat for many years. He was telling me about how he’d have to transport non-boat people in Boston Harbor and line them up with a fifty foot ladder that they’d then have to clamber up in their pennyloafers. He told me a bunch of other things but that stayed with me, that image of worlds coming into not-quite-alignment. It was kind of a metaphor for our conversation–I was trying to get on the bottom rung of that ladder. He, in turn, asked me a bunch of questions about writing and found most delightful the phrase, “Word salad.”

      I was down in New Bedford where Melville sailed out of this past weekend and where he set the beginning of Moby Dick. Whale paraphernalia abounds in the touristy parts, and it’s kind of funny how whaling–that gruesome disembowelment that was the same time a grab at life energy, that era’s oil–has become the whale, the t-shirtable icon and innocuously grinning stuffed animal. Melville whaling for literary purposes seems somehow an iconic intersection of boat and book, life and literature. In the visual arts there is maybe greater comfort with knotting the two together. At an open studio I marveled at the work of Scott Anderson, for instance, a visual artist who takes nautical imagery and splays it out in symmetrical bursts that look more like Mandelbrot images than anything you’d actually pull out of the water and carries out dialogues with string and driftwood. All drawing on the energy of that boundary.

  2. M Kitchell

      Man, I love boats.