High Seas: Ocean Tow Boats

Book Six

Ship 10 JPG

From Book 5

Johnny felt so completely at home, his head was nodding, half asleep, when Peter came in the living room and told him it was supper time. Terry was staying for supper and Peter introduced his Mother, Martha, to Johnny. He looked at his plate, it was heaped with corned beef and cabbage and Johnny dove into it like a starving man. He was, but for more than just mere food. He hadn't even eaten his full meal when Johnny felt completely at home and he let the last of his guards down. The minute he did, little Terry wormed his way into Johnny's heart and Martha looked across the table at her suddenly enlarged family and had a contented smile on her face. She fixed the spare bedroom up for Johnny while Peter walked little Terry back home. When he returned, he found his Mother and Johnny deep in conversation. Wisely, he bypassed the living room and went into the kitchen to get himself a cup of coffee. When Martha and Johnny had completed their conversation, they both were in tears, but they had smiles on their faces and, when Peter showed his bedroom to Johnny, the boy said, "Good night Grandma Martha." Johnny gave Peter a long hug and, when Peter asked him if he still should call Dr. Phillips, Johnny replied, "Yeah, Dad, I guess I had maybe talk with him and let him give me a lookover.


While Peter and the THOMAS were headed for Alaska, Charlie got a call from Army Transport that they had an emergency shipment of five barges, loaded with machinery belonging to the Army Corps of Engineers and it was needed in San Diego as fast as possible.

They told him there were no tugs in Hawaii capable of making the pull.

Charlie explained to them that there would be an extra charge to cover running the TERRY out to Hawaii without a pull and a Colonel Benson approved the charge.

They set sail two days after Peter had left for Alaska, and headed for Honolulu. It was an easy trip with no barges behind them and they pulled into Pearl Harbor seven days after they had left San Francisco Bay.

The Harbor Master had notified Colonel Benson that his tug boat had arrived and the Colonel was on the pier as Carson was tying up. The Colonel asked permission to come aboard, as he needed to speak to Carson privately.

Carson invited him to his cabin and, after Carson had closed the door, Colonel Benson laid out his problem. He told Carson, "Captain, we have the entire gold reserves of the Government of Japan here and we need to get it moved to the mainland for safekeeping."

Carson's eyes bugged out a bit as the Colonel continued, "We plan to disguise the shipment as surplus equipment and get it to the Federal Treasury Vaults in San Francisco. We have the vans all loaded and marked as machinery parts on six barges and we will start transferring them down here first thing tomorrow morning."

With a little trepidation, Carson agreed to the arrangement and asked the Colonel if he could clue in his officers about the shipment. Colonel Benson agreed as long as he kept the number of people in the know an absolute minimum.

Carson clued his First Mate and Chief Engineer in on the situation and then allowed the crew to go ashore with the proviso that they be back on board no later than 0300.

Not everyone went ashore, there were a few that stayed aboard and one of the assistant cooks laid out a simple supper for those who remained. Carson hit his bunk early, he reckoned that the next bunch of days were going to be gut-wrenching.

He read for a while, then lay there thinking about the boys he and Peter had become responsible for. He had a sudden inspiration, "I wonder if this Johnny that everyone is talking about would be interested in working with Charlie? Peter says the lad has a pleasant personality and maybe he could help Charlie drum up business and keep track of our loads?"

He went to sleep with that idea floating around in his head. He slept soundly until his alarm went off at 0245. He slipped on his clothes and went out on the main deck.

The AB had kept a tally of those on board and those who had gone or were still ashore, there were only two crewmen still not on board. As he reached in the cubby for a cup of coffee, a taxi drove up and the missing crewmembers, both were Black Gang, got out and paid the cabbie before they came on board.

The two were talking about this fabulous restaurant they had found, a place called Wo Fats. Carson chuckled to himself and thought, "Yer slow, Boys. I discovered that place years ago!" But, he said nothing and went back up to the mess to get another cup of coffee that had not been boiling all night long.

It was not long before Chief and the First Mate joined him and shortly, Cook was banging pots and pans around, getting ready to feed everyone before their workday got started.

Slowly, The TERRY started to come alive and at 0630, Chief and his crew went below and started testing the machinery. The Main Engine came on and idled for about ten minutes, then the second generator started up and stayed on, if they were going to maneuver barges, the shore power connection would not carry the load.

As daylight broke over Pearl Harbor, the TERRY had come alive and they were prepared for the arrival of the first barge. Carson and Chief were in the mess talking when the AB called down the hatch that there was a harbor tug and a barge coming up on them.

Carson went up to the bridge just as the tug nudged the first barge up to the fantail, where they could drop the towing collar around the post.

As soon as the first tug departed, another took its place until there was a string of six barges strung out behind The TERRY along the pier.

Colonel Benson came down with the pilot and asked if he could ride The TERRY as far as the pilot launch. Carson gave his permission and then set about getting his tugboat underway.

They dropped the mooring lines and bumped The TERRY out into the open water between the piers. Carson ordered the towing winch to play out the wire as he bumped the Main Engine forward, until he had sufficient space to maneuver.

He checked around to make sure everyone was ready and he ordered down, "AHEAD SLOW".

The TERRY slowly moved forward, taking up the slack in the wire. As they left the pier, Carson turned to the Pilot and said, "The ship is all yours, sir."

The pilot eased them out of the harbor, with Colonel Benson watching everything that was going on. He told Carson that he had never been on a tug before and he was fascinated.

The pilot told the AB to blow the horn, "I am underway ahead" and they headed for the channel that led out to the open sea. The towing signal was already run up on the mast and it took them less than ten minutes to reach the mouth of the channel.

The pilot boat was waiting for them and both Colonel Benson and the pilot climbed over the side and waved as the pilot boat pulled away.

Carson raised the speed to AHEAD one-third and he turned to the port, heading for Diamond Head.

Once around Diamond Head he ran the engine up to AHEAD full and set the turns for 80 rpm. He slowly raised the turns to his customary 95 turns as they passed Molokai Island, headed east to the mainland a week away.

When the watch was settled in and the Third Mate had relieved him, Carson took a tour of his ship to make sure everything was ok. He could hear the engine straining under the heavy load and he made a note to himself to ask Chief if he wanted him to slow a few turns. He spotted Chief coming up the ladder from the Engine Room and he posed his question to him.

The Chief replied, "Naw, she's ok. It will just blow some of the carbon outta her."

They settled down for a routine run back to San Francisco. They all fell into a rhythm with the thumping of the main engine, the tow was behaving itself and Carson was hoping for a routine run.

That afternoon, a headwind came up and the seas became a bit choppy. It didn't get any worse, so Carson did not make any changes to their speed or course. The day and the next night droned on, typical of a large ocean tow, work like hell to put it together and die of boredom until you get to your destination!

It was mostly the same for the next several days, a headwind would come up each afternoon and die away as soon as it got dark.

Charlie had sent a message that the Coast Guard would meet them off the Farallons and escort them to Pier Four on the San Francisco waterfront. Carson wondered about that until he remembered that the basin between Pier Four and Pier Five was especially wide and would allow the harbor tugs to work the barges.

At long last, the Farallon Islands appeared on the radar, the bright blips had to be the Coast Guard.

They were.

There were four Coasties waiting for them and they escorted The TERRY and her brood of barges into the Golden Gate. The Coast Guard cleared the area of small boats and two harbor tugs maneuvered the barges to alongside the pier.

A Treasury Department Official and Carson both checked the seals on the containers before Carson received the Bills of Lading all signed and the vouchers for payment of the transportation charges.

Carson headed The TERRY across the bay to Bates Pier, he was tired from the tension and responsibility of the tow and he was looking forward to a hot shower and his Mother's cooking. As he eased up to their pier, he saw The THOMAS moored ahead of him and both The KEITH and The ANDREW were moored across the pier from them.

Carson thought to himself, "I sure hope Peter found those old buddies of his, we need skippers on both tugs."

The first mooring lines went over and Carson saw Charlie and a younger man make the jump from the pier and The TERRY. As soon as he rang down "FINISHED WITH ENGINE", Carson went looking for Charlie and his visitor before his young son, Terry, discovered he was home. Charlie was waiting for him in the Mess and he introduced the younger man as Johnny Toland and that he was going to be the Assistant Traffic Manager for Bates Marine.

The young man pulled back when Carson reached to shake his hand. Carson thought, "Oh, Oh, there is some trouble here."

He looked at Charlie and Charlie whispered to him, "It's OK, Car, just let him tell you in his own time, it's pretty bad."

Carson nodded a yes and continued to give the two men a run down in the recent pull. He handed the BOLs (Bills of Lading) to Johnny and the three of them walked into the Shipping Office. The Marconi Operator was talking with The THOMAS and he swung around to tell Carson that the THOMAS would be in the day after tomorrow, they were coming back from a run out of San Diego with barges loaded with railroad ballast for the tracks.

Carson sat down and described the last pull to everyone, they all had the same question, "GOLD?" Carson laughed, "HELLIFIKNOW, all we saw was big steel containers welded shut and we were escorted in by the Coasties all the way in from the Farallons."

Everyone began to go their separate ways and Carson asked, "Johnny, we don't know each other yet, would you mind coming into the office and lets have us a nice long talk?"

Johnny just shook his head in a yes and followed Carson into the office. Charlie was a little worried about Johnnie, but he did not know that Carson had already spotted the young man's unease.

When they both had sat down, Carson said, "Son, I can see you are a bit scared, but you have no reason to fear me. Do you know little Terry?"

Johnnie nodded that he did and Carson continued, "Well, I am Terry's Daddy and I wouldn't hurt you anymore than I would hurt my son. Just tell me what's going on, I won't judge you nor will I say you can't work here. Charlie is your boss and that won't change either."

Johnnie sat there for a few minutes, and tears were beginning to leak down his face.

Carson went to the couch and sat beside the boy, putting his arm around Johnnie's shoulders. He said to Johnnie, "Let it all out son, fear is like a poison, so don't keep it bottled up inside you."

Johnnie began to tell his story to Carson and Carson felt a horror that he dared not show on his face. His anger became almost uncontrollable before Johnnie had completed his story.

He hugged the boy and told him that, as far as he was concerned, he was Family and he had a job with Bates Marine for so long as he wanted to work there.

Johnnie wiped his face and thanked Mr. Carson and Carson said, "Let's drop the Mister stuff, ok?"

Johnnie looked at Carson with the first smile Carson had seen on the boy. Johnnie said, "OK, how about Uncle Carson?"

Carson was choking in laughter as he said, "OK, just so long as Peter is Daddy!"

Johnnie, now at ease with this new person, hugged Carson as whispered, "He already is, Unca Carson!"

Charlie came into the office and noticed the tear stains on Johnnie's face, he asked, "Is everything ok here?"

Carson replied, "Sure is, I was just getting to know my new nephew here!"

Johnnie took all the paperwork from Carson's last voyage and went upstairs to the Business Office and started logging the data. Carson put his hand on Charlie's shoulder and said, "Charlie, that boy is loaded with a world of hurt, you are gonna have to tread lightly until the hurtin' wears off."

Charlie then told Carson everything he knew about Johnnie and how they had come to find him.

Carson's anger level went up a couple more notches and he said to Charlie, "Make sure he has meaningful work to do and, for the sake of the boy, make sure Dr. Phillips sees him regular like. If the boy wants to go on to school, let's send him to Heald's Business College, where he can get a good education. We will pay his tuition and expenses."

Charlie thought for a moment and then replied, "I had not thought of Heald's, what a great idea. He has a good head for numbers and picked how to do BOLs and transportation orders in just one day!"

Carson thought for a few minutes and then said, "I see the ANDREW and the KEITH are ready to go, has Peter located those two skippers he had in mind?"

Charlie replied, "He sure did, Danny Bigelow and Kenny Jasper are already on board. They both were Lieutenant Commanders in the Navy and they both commanded Destroyer Escorts."

Carson laughed, "The Toy Boat Navy, huh?"

Charlie snickered and said, "Well they weren't much bigger than those two tugs sitting out there!"

The two men walked upstairs and watched as Johnnie added the names of the two new tugs to the Dispatch Board and hung loading orders under each tug's name. They were both scheduled to sail the next day, The KEITH would be headed to Seattle and The ANDREW had a tow to Puerto Vallarta.

Things were looking up for Bates Marine Services and Carson feared that, soon, he would not have the luxury of going to sea, his next command was going to be a desk!


Running four tugs took both Charlie and Johnnie almost full time keeping them loaded and keeping track of where they were. They had to put a second and a third Marconi Operator on to keep the radio manned around the clock. When both Peter and Carson were out on a run, Johnnie was sure Charlie was going to come down with a case of the "bejabbers" when they had six tugs to schedule!

Martha was watching out for Johnnie and, when things were running tight, she would bring his supper over to the office and stand there to make sure he ate it.

The four tugs seemed to be out all the time, sometimes they would arrive, fuel and leave again, hardly shutting down their Main Engine. Carson was becoming frantic to get the PETER and the CARSON in service, as well as the ANDREW and the KEITH.

He gave his father, Thomas, a list of men whom he had known in the service and asked him to contact them, and see if any were interested in skippering an Ocean Tug Boat. Thomas found three who were interested and he asked them to come by on Tuesday of the next week, that Carson would be in that day, while his pull was being assembled.

Their schedule was getting so tight, a breakdown, even a minor one would throw a monkey wrench in the works.

Carson interviewed all three candidates, he had known them slightly while they were all in the Navy and he knew they could command tugs. Only one of them had his Merchant Marine Licenses and he sent the other two over to plead their cases at the Coast Guard Headquarters.

Even one more Captain would help, he just had to come ashore and start running their business. Charlie and Johnnie were doing a magnificent job but there were decisions that only he could make and he could make them only if he was there when the decisions had to be made.

His problems were not made any less when Captain Kenny Jasper of The PETER brought home an injured boy from his tow to Portland. He had snatched the boy off a sinking rowboat at the mouth of the Columbia River. He had been beaten nearly to death by his father and Kenny had hauled him onboard the PETER more dead than alive.

Kenny had never married, but he was determined that the boy was going to live with him. Between Captain Kenny and Carson, they had four lawyers working the case through the California Courts.

One of the three candidates, Kyle Hoffman, had his Master's License and Carson put him on The CARSON and told him to get the tug crewed, before he ran out the door to pull a priority tow to Los Angeles.

He knew that, somehow, it had to be his last pull, he had not had a day off in four months and there were things in the office that were not getting done because he wasn't there to do them. Things were not going to get any easier for a while, the two college boys would soon be finishing their first year at the Academy and had two more years of study to go before they would be Third Mate or Third Engineer. Their grades were high, the latest report period showed them at the top of their class, battling it out for first place!

He thought, "Oh Lord, shades of Peter and me"!

With seven tugs now in service, they had just done themselves out of a place at the dinner table, there were only six slots to moor a tug that size at their pier at one time.

Now Carson had another worry, they were going to have to move and relocate the office.

Danny Bigelow left that morning with a late tow to Whittier. It was four barges of earthmoving equipment for the Territory of Alaska Roads Department. The load was high and Carson warned Danny about crosswinds. Carson knew those waters and how dangerous they were.

Later that day, Charlie came up with two names of former Tug Captains who had semi-retired after the war. Carson called them both, Robert Way and Delmar Johnson. They both agreed to come down and talk with him, however, Delmar Johnson was only interested in doing relief work. Carson thought even that would help them out.

Both men came down the next day, as Carson was readying The TERRY for a pull to San Diego. He interviewed them both and hired them on the spot. He told them to get the KEITH and the ANDREW ready to sail, he would see them off as soon as he returned to San Francisco Bay. With that, he boarded The TERRY and headed back to San Diego. His two "new hires" were left standing on the pier, shaking their heads.


Robert Way had no trouble getting his papers and he became the skipper of The PETER. Delmar Johnson was a problem, he had no problem with his papers either, but he did not want long-term assignments. He would be happy sailing relief for any of the other captains. As a temporary measure, Carson assigned him to the CARSON and told Charlie to keep his tows local as much as possible.

They had located a larger pier, in fact, it was two piers over at The Port of Richmond. He took the lease on them immediately and contracted to have an old warehouse converted to offices and work areas for the company.

They now had six tugs in service, TERRY, THOMAS, PETER, CARSON, KEITH and ANDREW. He had taken an option on a seventh tug they had named the HELEN. In the midst of their move, the Disposal Officer over at Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard called to advise them that another tug was going to be sold the next week.

Fortunately, The TERRY was laid up, having her main engine worked on, so Carson would be in port. The THOMAS came in the day before the sale, so Peter and Carson went over to the Naval Shipyard the next morning to look the tug over.

Like the others, it looked like it had just come down the builder's way. There were several other bidders, but Carson knew exactly what the value of the tug was so he bid accordingly and was the high bidder.

The new tug was to be named The MARTHA and it was sent immediately over to the Bethlehem Yards for a hull inspection, hull cleaning and painting. As they were returning to their new office, Peter was kidding Carson a bit when he said, "The boys had better hurry up and graduate, their tug boats just beat them home!"

Carson thought for a moment and said, "You know, the Academy might know of some skippers looking for a job, let's go up there and talk with the dean. They planned a trip to the Academy for the very next day, before Peter had to sail.

Dr. Chastain, the Academic Dean at the Academy greeted his guests with enthusiasm, he had been Dean for many years and an Instructor before that. In fact, he had had both men as students at one time. He asked them both how they liked civilian life and Carson answered for both of them, "What life?" He continued, "We go to sea, we come home for a meal and go back to sea. That is why we came to see you!"

Dr. Chastain raised his eyebrows and asked, "What can I do, I can't go to sea for you?"

Carson laughed, "No, we don't need any broken-down Engineers, it's Captains we need!"

In the spirit of their verbal jousting, Dr. Chastain replied, "Oh yeah, let me see you try to row one of those tugboats!"

He then invited them for a cup of coffee and they all sat down to talk. Carson told him of their need for Tug Boat Captains, that they had eight tug boats in the water and they had no relief skippers. If someone got sick, the tug could not sail.

Dr. Chastain asked, "Is that why you have been following Andrew's and Keith's grades so close?"

Peter said, "Yeah, but Keith wants to be a Snipe (Engineer)!"

The Dean said, "Yes, and he is going to be a good one, too. He and Andrew are fighting neck to neck on who is going to be No.1 when they graduate! If they weren't so close, I would be afraid they would be reduced to fists!"

He thought for a moment and then continued, "Did you know that both boys are planning on taking cross-examinations for their licenses? They will both have a Third Mate AND a Third Engineer License!"

Both Carson and Peter were taken aback, Carson said, "I was not aware you can do that. I have a Third Engineer License and my Master License, but my original license was as Third Engineer."

Dr. Chastain replied, "We had to get special permission from the Coast Guard for them. They told us that is what they wanted when they first came here and it took all this time to get approval. They will be taking their exams next August!"

Peter and Carson looked at one another and grinned, but neither man said anything.

Peter was thinking, "I had better hot foot it over to the Coastie Headquarters and sit for my Third Engineer ticket BEFORE my son graduates!"

The Dean went through his records and wrote down the names of six graduates who had Master's Licenses and who were "on the beach". He said, "I don't know if any of these fellows are interested, you will have to talk to them. On another subject, could we set up a program where members of our Senior Class could go out with your tugs for a thirty-day period, kind of like apprentices?" He added, "They all have their Seaman's Documents that will cover them with the Coast Guard."

Both Carson and Peter thought that was a good idea and Carson said, "Yes, I like that idea, kind of like growing our own Skippers and Chiefs!"

Dean Chastain replied, "OK, supposing I send six Deck and six Engineering First Classmen down to interview with you next week?"

Carson agreed and the two took their leave of the Dean and headed back to the Bates Marine Pier.

When they got back, both Charlie and Johnnie were tearing their hair out, trying to schedule pulls and available tugs, it seemed like, no matter what schedule they came up with, some customer was going to be left out. Carson tried his hand at helping them and he could find no solution, they were going to have to ask a customer to change his needs.

The lowest priority customer was Pioneer Stone and Gravel. Carson gave Nick Granger at Pioneer a call and asked him if they could delay his shipment of crushed stone for a week.

Nick Granger told them that they could but he just had to have the crushed stone no later than July 25th, NO LATER!

Johnnie plugged that date into the schedule and it worked!

After they got all the schedules rearranged and soothed the feathers of a couple of customers, they called it a day. Both Carson and Peter had pulls the next day, it would be Carson's last pull before he had to be Captain of his desk at the office.

He was not a happy man!

Peter and Carson were having a last cup of coffee before they went home and Charlie and Johnnie came down the stairs from the scheduling office. Carson said, "Johnnie, Charlie, ya' got a moment?"

They both came over and Peter was standing beside him when Carson asked, "Johnnie, remember when I asked you about going to school?"

Johnnie shook his head in a yes and Carson continued, "Well, there is an opening at Heald's College, in the Business Course that has your name on it if you still want to go."

Johnnie's mouth opened and closed several times before he was able to squeak, "yyYy YEESSSS!"

Carson handed him a bundle of papers and reminded Johnnie that Bates Marine was going to pay all his expenses as well as his salary while he was in school.

Johnnie sat down in the chair, he was shaking like a leaf. He said, "You are doing so much for me and I was a throwaway boy, all I meant to my father was some quick sex when he had been out drinking. I never knew my mother, she is just a name on my birth certificate."

He looked at Carson and Peter and said, "You two are my real dads and Mr. Charlie is my Uncle."

So it was that a very happy young man caught the Bay Ferry the next morning to the San Francisco Ferry Building. It was just a short walk up Market Street to where Heald's College was located.

TBC - A time when Big Boys and Little Boys come together.