High Seas: Ocean Tow Boats

Book Five

Ship 10 JPG

From Book 4

It had been an exciting several days before the boys were enrolled in St. David High School, a private, all-boys high school. Peter and Carson had chosen St. David's because they specialized in training boys for the Navy Academy and also for the Merchant Marine Academy and they were going to give their sons every advantage they could. So it was that two teenage boys who had been fished out of the water like two drowned rats, were now going to go to an elite boys' school in preparation to enter the Maritime Academy after they graduated from high school. The school officials had no problem accepting the two boys, they all knew of the exploits of their Dads and it didn't hurt that their Grandfather was the retired Presiding Chief Judge of the Superior Court.

Chapter 1 - BACK TO WORK

An Ocean Tug makes no money tied up at the pier, so Charlie had a pull arranged for Peter and the THOMAS. There were six barges of railroad equipment at the Southern Pacific Marine Terminal destined for the Alaska Railway System. The pull would take them up, through the Inland Passage to Whittier. Alaska. It would be the last pull to Whittier before winter set in.

Peter looked at his charts and figured it would be a twenty-day pull-up to Whittier. There is no rail connection between the lower forty-eight states and the Territory of Alaska, so the only option to get the equipment to the Territory was by sea. (note: This part of the story takes place before Alaska and Hawaii gained statehood)

Peter spent the day getting the THOMAS ready for sea, the caterers had delivered the food supplies and the fresh water tank had been flushed and refilled.

They did have a small fresh water distiller on board, but they never used it unless it was absolutely necessary. The cantankerous gadget did a marvelous job of blowing fuses, but made very little fresh water!

Late in the afternoon, the fuel barge bunkered the THOMAS and they planned on departing for the Marine Terminal at 0400 the next morning.

That evening, Keith came over and Peter's Mother, Martha, met him for the first time and she fixed her "special supper", southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes with cream gravy and buttermilk biscuits so light, they nearly needed to be tied down.

Martha was anxious to meet the boy that had so excited her son and she fell in love with Keith as much as Peter had. Before the evening was out, she had insisted Keith call her Grandma Martha and she promised that she would fix up a room for him so he could spend the night if he wished.

Peter had told her a little of the young man's history and she said she did not want to know anymore, that she was going to have a hard time sleeping over the little bit Peter had already told her.

Peter and his Mother lived just a block down the street from the Bates and Keith told her that he would come and visit her often. She was still grinning with happiness as she went to bed that night, she had been pretty sure that her only son, Peter, was never going to have children of his own and now she was a Grandmother of a handsome young man who was obviously very intelligent.

She did not get up at 3 am to see her boys off, but she had left the fixin's on the counter for them to have a quick breakfast before Peter had to sail. She had guessed, correctly, that Keith would see his Papa off in the morning.

The next morning, Keith and Peter hugged each other and Peter decided that when he came back, he was going to need to get a driver's license for Keith so he could drive the car back to the house.

After Peter left for the Bate's Pier, Keith sat down and read some books that Peter had gotten out for him on Celestial Navigation. His mind was like a sponge and soaked up the information in the books.

Meanwhile, Peter was getting the THOMAS ready for sea, he backed the tug out of their pier right at 0400 and headed for the Southern Pacific Marine Terminal in the Southbay.

It was just getting light when they arrived and the SP Tugs were lining up the pull in anticipation of the THOMAS' arrival. Peter and the First Mate checked each of the barges for level and the tow wires for kinks and twists. All seemed in order, so Peter went back to his ship and the First Mate guided him back to the lead barge.

As soon as the tow wire had been dropped over the Towing Post and made fast, the Mate jumped from the lead barge to the fan tail of the THOMAS, before Peter drew up and put a slight strain on the wire.

The barges came up snug as the THOMAS pulled slowly, the pull began to move away from the SP Terminal and out into the bay proper. With such a heavy load, Peter kept his speed down as he headed for the Golden Gate, it was getting light and the two "balls" of his "Under Tow" signal was clearly visible on the THOMAS' mast.

As they passed their home pier, he gave a great blast on the THOMAS's horn, he hoped Keith was still at their house and would know that the THOMAS was passing them. Keith did hear the horn and he ran out into the street where he could see the THOMAS and its pull head towards the "Gate" Peter could not see him, but Keith's face was wet with tears as he watched his new Papa sail away.

Martha had heard the boy go out the front door and she came and put her arms around her new Grandson, comforting him and telling him that his Papa would be back soon.

She looked at this boy, he looked so forlorn and vulnerable that she just hugged him while they watched the THOMAS and her charges disappear into the morning mist that covered the bay. The two stood there, each in communion with the other. It was an understanding they would carry all their lives a Grandmother and her Grandson!

She wiped his tears away on her apron and led him back inside. They sat on the couch for a long while, as she just loved the boy and held him. Pretty soon, Keith's stomach growled and they both laughed, Martha got up and fixed Keith a big breakfast to appease that "Growly Bear".

After a while, Keith gathered up his things and told Martha that he and his brother, Andy had to register for school that morning, so he had better get on his stick and make sure Andy was up and moving. They didn't want to be late on their very first day.

Peter swung the THOMAS and their tow out beyond the Humboldt Current before turning north, the cold, turbulent current was a seaman's nightmare and had sunk as many ships as a war!

Five days later, Peter spotted the North Head Lighthouse on the Columbia River. He had checked their fuel supply that afternoon and they were running a bit better than he had expected. The next light he expected to see would be Estaven Point Lighthouse on Vancouver Island and likely would be one of the last lights they would see before entering Queen Charlotte Sound.

The weather had turned intensely cold and Peter had asked the Chief to start up the heating system in the quarters. Cook was keeping hot coffee and hot chocolate on tap around the clock and the crew's calorie intake had increased noticeably.

They were making good time, the heavy load was behaving itself and the THOMAS was not laboring to keep their speed up. Once they entered the Inland Passage, he was going to have to put a lookout out on the bridge wing. At night, patches of fog could creep up on an unsuspecting crew and they could find themselves on the rocks in no time!

On their eleventh day, they spotted Cape St. James Light and Peter headed the THOMAS into Queen Charlotte Sound. They were now into their final leg of their journey, and Peter put a second look out on the bridge, to watch for icebergs.

About halfway through Queen Charlotte Sound, the main engine developed a stutter that proceeded to get worse. The Chief came up to the bridge and told Peter they had a bad injector and recommended they stop for about two hours and change it out while the weather was good and the seas were calm in the sound.

Peter agreed and they slowed down over a period of a half hour so as to not have the barges overrun the THOMAS. It was an eerie silence when the main engine shut down and the entire crew was holding its breath while the Chief and his engineers scrambled to extract the damaged fuel injector and manhandle a new one in its place. The injectors were large and heavy and they required two men to lift it so it was with considerable relief when the chief called up that they would be ready to go again in thirty minutes!

The crew on the bridge cheered when Chief called up and said, "Ready to answer bells!"

Peter watched as the Second Mate rang down AHEAD SLOW and dialed in 25 turns on the indicator. He brought the speed up slowly over two hours, not wanting to overstress the tow wire. Peter told the Second to hold the speed at 90 turns as they were beginning to see sizable chunks of ice floating in the sound.

They exited Queen Charlotte Sound at the Dixon Entrance and proceeded north into the Inland Passage. They were seeing more and more ice and Peter had the speed reduced again to 75 turns. As it got dark, he decided to slow even more and ordered 60 turns on the shaft.

He figured he would be on the bridge for the entire transit across through the passage, he didn't like the amount of ice he was seeing and he had no way to judge whether it was hard ice or soft, Much of the ice looked blue to him and that indicated hard ice.

He asked the Marconi Operator to get a weather report from Whittier and it took the operator almost an hour to raise Whittier. They reported clear, with an east wind of 12 knots. Local temperature was minus 6 degrees and falling. As daylight left them, they knew they were in for a long, cold night as they crept across the still water of the Gulf of Alaska.

At noon of the second day of their crossing, they passed the Pinnacle Rock Light on Kayak Island and Peter slowed again, he did not want to try Hinchenbrook Narrows in the dark. He ordered down 46 turns on the shaft and they coasted across the last of the Gulf of Alaska, headed for Hinchenbrook Island and its narrow pass into Prince William Sound.

It was broad daylight for only a very short day in the far north so late in September. The light was still good when they approached the narrows. Peter slowed even more as they passed through the narrows, they were idling along at 30 turns on the shaft, just enough to provide a little way on the tug and load.

As they exited the narrows, everyone realized they had been holding their collective breath and they all exhaled. Peter ran the speed back up to 46 turns on the shaft, timing his speed to arrive at the narrow channel between Perry Island and Glacier Island just at daylight the next day. The narrow channel led to Whittier Harbor, their destination.

The next morning saw them at the entrance to Passage Channel. They would pick up the pilot just off Emerald Island and Whittier would be just around the bend in the channel.


The Railroad Dock was located in the outer harbor, south of town. The pilot saw them to the pier before he left them, telling Peter that he would come back when they called for him to get them on their way home.

There were no harbor tugs and Peter had to drop and nudge each of his barges up to the railroad pier then match the tracks to the wheels on each of the three locomotives and two passenger dome cars.

The railroad sent down a tugger and they hooked a tow cable to each locomotive and towed it onto the tracks and into the harbor area. It sounds harder than it really was, there were winches on the pier to position the barges and they could move the barges fractions of an inch to mate the wheels to the track. It took them all day to offload the three locomotives, the two dome cars were both on the same barge and that was going to be a bit trickier.

They all spent the night onboard the THOMAS with the generator roaring to keep up with the electric heaters in the staterooms. There was no shore connection on the pier to supply electricity. Peter kept watching the sky as clouds were moving in, he sure as Hell did not want to get stuck in Whittier by the first storm of the season!

The next morning, he was pushing his crew to get those damned dome cars off the barge so they could flee the scene. The last car was off at noon and Peter was right there with all the documentation to be signed.

The minute they saw Peter turn and start back for the THOMAS, the Chief rolled the main engine and let it idle at 10 rpm on the shaft. The THOMAS was tugging gently at her mooring lines as if she was eager to get the Hell out of town herself!

As soon as Captain Peter was aboard, the First Mate ordered, "Cast OFF the lines" and he ordered "BACK SLOW" as the THOMAS began to ease out of the harbor.

The Pilot was aboard and, as soon as the THOMAS was away from the pier, he took over and got them back out to Emerald Island before his launch picked him up.

Peter ordered 60 turns on the shaft and the tug, with its four empty barges trailing behind, headed for Hinchenbrook Narrows, two days away.

Wanting to transit the narrows in the daylight, Peter slowed the THOMAS again the last night they were in Prince William Sound, so that they would reach Hinchenbrook Narrows right at daybreak the next morning. He begrudged every minute they had to stay in that frozen hell, but there was no help for it.

The next morning they transited the narrows and were free in the Gulf of Alaska. Three days later saw them at the entrance to the Inland Passage and Peter slowed the THOMAS until they reached Patsy Cove, where the waterway opened up. He increased the turns to 90, hoping to get as far south as possible before any storm caught up with them.

They continued in the Inside Passage and were making good time. The water was free of ice and the weather was holding, so Peter upped the turns to 95. They were cruising at a good speed and the seas were relatively calm for that time of year.

On the day before they would exit the Inland Passage, the Marconi Operator picked up a strange signal on the emergency channel. After conferring with Peter, he piped it onto the bridge speakers. Everyone thought it sounded like a child's voice "..lp m a H..ki, fir...... P... ...ed. H.......P" was all they could pick up. Peter said, "Turn up the gain and try transmitting. Maybe that will keep whoever is sending on the channel."

Throughout the night, the Marconi Operator tried to establish contact with whoever it was on the Emergency Channel. Shortly after daybreak, they were passing Hunter Island and coming up on Calvert Island, suddenly, the speaker came through clearly, "HELP, ME AT HAKAI CAMP. FIRE, MANY DEAD. HELP!" Peter checked his charts and found the small island of Hakai and a notation there was a Native fishing camp there.

Without hesitation, Peter ordered the THOMAS into the narrow Hakai Pass. The Marconi Operator was frantically working the radio to keep, what appeared to be a small child, on the line.

When they rounded the point, there was a beach and a small village in ruins and still smoking. He came as close as he dared to the shoreline and ordered the First Mate to take the MWB (Motor Whale Boat) ashore and find out what was going on. They struggled to get the small boat into the water and, as soon as the engine caught, the boat headed for the beach.

The Marconi Operator was telling the person calling, to look for a boat and men who were coming to their rescue.

About 20 minutes later, the First Mate was on the "ship to shore", "My God, everyone is dead except for some kids! An eleven-year-old boy is the oldest and he has been on the radio non-stop for three days!"

Peter returned, "Bundle them up in the emergency blankets and get them out to the THOMAS ASAP!" When they saw the MWB headed back to The THOMAS, Cook poured out a large urn of hot chocolate and put it in the mess along with cups. He then started heating up the stew they had for supper the night before and cutting a loaf of bread into slices.

When the boat got back, the crew handed six small children up to waiting hands and the children were rushed into the warm mess. The oldest child, a boy named Ono, told them that the fire had started in the drying shed and quickly spread. Their parent tried to save their fish, but the fire caught them and they could not get out. He had seen his father use the radio and he had been trying to contact someone since the fire had killed their parents.

Peter had the Marconi Operator contact the Canadian Authorities and, after some negotiation, the Canadian Coast Guard ship, Arthur, would meet them at Port Hardy. Port Hardy was the end of the Inland Passage. They got underway again, the children were bedded down in whatever bunk was unoccupied, wrapped in warm blankets and full of Cook's warm stew and hot chocolate.

As they had promised, the Canadian Coast Guard ship, Arthur, was waiting for them and they transferred the children to the Cutter. The crew was kind of sad to see the children go, in that short time, they had become quite fond of them. They would have a surprise before they finally docked at Bate's Pier.

Chapter 3 - HEADED HOME

They continued south on Queen Charlotte Sound until they exited out into the Pacific Ocean. The weather was beginning to deteriorate and the swells were confused, seemingly to be coming from two different directions.

They sailed past Vancouver Island and soon, they were off the coast of the United States again. As they passed the mouth of the Straits of San Juan de Fuca, the weather turned on them with a fury and the four barges were trying to go in six different directions. No matter what speed Peter ordered, it was like trying to herd housecats! They could feel the tugs jerking the tow wire and they prayed they would not have to round up stray barges, should the tow wire snap.

Peter finally settled on 75 turns as the best speed they could make and they trudged south towards home. As they passed North Head Light on the Columbia River, the weather turned into an outright storm with gale-force winds and huge seas.

They had to keep The THOMAS buttoned up, otherwise they might flood. They were making little headway against the hurricane-force winds, at 75 turns on the shaft, they were making barely three knots!

The poor THOMAS was crashing through the huge rollers and they were breaking over the top of the wheelhouse. Peter finally had to slow to 40 turns on the shaft and he feared losing a barge in the storm and never finding it.

For three days they crashed, rolled and turned submarine as the huge waves rolled over them. They had all three pumps on, in an effort to keep The Thomas from flooding!

The inside of The THOMAS was dank with wet, smelled like a herd of unwashed he goats were living in it and they were rolling so bad, Peter had only a guess as to just where they actually were.

He finally got a glimpse of the Umpqua Light House, so that put them about halfway down the coast of Oregon. He was beginning to lose track of days, everything was a shade of gray! He had to rely on the radar, there was no way he could get a star sight and the Loran was unreliable in those waters.

The next day he spotted the Coquille Light and a couple of hours later the light on Cape Blanco was spotted. They fought the storm all the way down to Cape Mendocino in California, before it began to moderate. Everyone was bruised and hurting and they had not had a real meal in five days!

Cook came up to the bridge with a worried look on his face, he said quietly to Peter, "Cap'n, I thinks we gots us a stowaway on board!"

Peter had a surprised look on his face, that was about the last thing he would have expected. He asked, "What makes you think that, Cookie?"

Cook replied, "Well, stuffs gone missin', milk, bread, cookies and some leftover ham that I were gonna fix for quick sandwiches."

Peter asked, "How long has this been going on?"

Cook replied, "Well, I's pretty sure right after we left Whittier. I weren't sure positive until this morning when what was left of the ham was gone completely." Peter thought about it and called the First Mate over and they decided they had better look around and find the stowaway before the Feds did. The Government took a dim view of stowaways and usually blamed the ship. They would be fined heavily if a stowaway was found on The Thomas.

Peter asked the Chief Engineer to join him and the First Mate in the search, along with the Cook. They started going through gear lockers and storage rooms with no success. Cook finally remembered the cleaning gear locker down near the hatch to the Engine Room. Peter agreed, it was about the only place they had not looked.

The four men stood in front of the door to the locker and Peter snatched the door open. Hiding behind the brooms and mops was a teen, he looked to be sixteen or seventeen years old. The boy was shaking like a leaf in a windstorm and when Peter reached for him, he screamed, "Don't hit me, please, don't hit me. I'll be good n' you kin do what you want to me. Just don't hit me again!"

The boy's words disturbed Peter greatly and he held the boy's hands and said, "Son, we aren't gonna hurt you, who are you and where did you come from."

The boy stammered, "I be Johnny Toland an' I were living in Whittier with a guy who claimed to be my uncle, but I knew he weren't."

The boy began to cry as he tried to finish his story, "He done things to me, sir, an' hurt me. He made me bleed and I's got scared, so I's ran. I seed your boat and I's snuck on board. I's sorry 'bout the food, but I's were starvin' n' thought I were gonna die in that storm."

Peter held the boy in his arms and asked him, "First, son, where are you bleeding?"

The boy pointed to his bottom.

It was all Peter could do not to scream, he led the boy out of the closet and took him to his own stateroom. He told the boy, Johnny, to get a quick shower and get cleaned up.

As the boy was undressing, he handed Peter his passport and said, "See, I weren't lyin, I am an American!"

Peter hugged Johnny again and replied, "Son, I never thought you were lying, now, let's get you cleaned up and some real food in you."

Peter handed Johnny a pair of clean coveralls to put on after his shower and Cook took the boy's dirty clothing to put them through the washing machine. Word spread through the crew like wild fire, especially when the cook told them about the blood on the boy's underwear! When Peter took Johnny to the mess, all off-watch crewmembers were there to greet him. Peter told them not to ask too many questions and let the boy get a good meal in him.

After Johnny had eaten almost everything in sight, he took the boy back to his stateroom to talk with him. He notice blood stains on the back of the coveralls, so he asked, "Johnny, are you still bleeding back there" as he pointed to the boy's backside.

Johnny told him that he was, so Peter had the boy lay across his lap as he inspected Johnny's rectum. It was all raw and red, oozing blood. Peter went and got some antiseptic cream and wiped the blood away before he applied the cream. He said, "As soon as we get home, I will have Doc Phillips take a look at you."

Johnny got a worried look on his face as asked, "Is you gonna turn me in?"

Peter replied, "Nope, I looked at your passport, you have just turned eighteen, in the eyes of the law, you are an adult now."

Johnny looked a bit scared and asked, "You ain't gonna turn me over to the cops is ya'? I don't gots no record!"

Peter smiled and replied, "Not that either, but I know a great place for ya' t'live and three boys a bit younger than you who would snatch you up in half a heartbeat and make you their brother!"

Peter could see that Johnny's eyes were drooping and he laid him on his own bunk until he could get the fold-away bed set up for him. As he pulled the blankets over the boy, he was already asleep with a huge grin on his face. Despite rather severe malnutrition, the boy's face was calm and peaceful. Peter thought to himself, "Lordy, am I gonna take in every stray in the Pacific?"

He answered himself, "YES!"

They were running out of the remnants of the storm and by noon the next day they had picked up Point Arena Light. Things seemed to go better, now that home was almost in sight.

The next morning Peter made his turn to cross the Humboldt Current and headed under the Golden Gate Bridge. As soon as they were on the bay, Peter got on the ship to shore and radioed Bate's Pier.

When he told Charlie that he had found "another one", Charlie told him they might have to get a Boy License! Carson was on a run to Honolulu with The TERRY and they were crewing up The KEITH and The ANDREW for service. The engines on The PETER and The CARSON were being overhauled.

Peter gritted his teeth when Charlie told him about the two newest ships, but he figured it was a done deal and he might as well accept it.

They dropped the barges off at the Southern Pacific Marine Terminal and headed back upbay to their own dock. It was with relief that Peter rang down "FINISHED WITH ENGINE" and, as soon as they had plugged into shore power, everything went quiet.

Peter went down to his stateroom and collected Johnny. He had already told him about the Family and Johnny was anxious, as well as a bit frightened to meet these people. Charlie had notified Thomas and Peter's mother, Martha, The THOMAS was in port. Of course, Andy would stay with Peter and his Mother and Johnny would stay there, also. Johnny already knew Cap'n Peter already and trusted him.

When they got home, there was a little redheaded moon rocket waiting on them. Little Terry wanted to know all about Johnny and where he had come from.

When Terry found out that Johnny had come from that mysterious land of ice and snow of the far north, he wanted to know if Johnny knew Santa Claus. Had he ever ridden a reindeer? Did he know any magic snowmen? Do reindeer really fly? The little boy had questions flowing like a raging river, he rarely even waited for an answer before he was asking the next question.

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 had his eyes set on a man to be his mentor and that man was seated across the table from him. Peter suspected that Johnny was thinking along those lines and he had no problem with it. He had already seen that the young man was sharp and he was thinking he would make a great crewman on The Thomas! All his crew loved the young man and they patted them on his back when Peter said he was taking him home with him.

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 now had two Grandsons to love!

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.


Bates Ocean Towing is growing by leaps and bounds yet. They will soon be putting two more Ocean Tugs in service and they have added yet another son to the combined families. It looks like the world is their oyster and they are about to harvest it.