Castle Roland

Tugboat Captain

by Charles Bird


Chapter 3

Posted: 29 Oct 15


A Story of the Life and Times of Jason Crowley
Copyright © 2014 by Charles W Bird

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The story is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced by any means.


The Cutter Tugboat fleet was the largest on San Francisco Bay and they had the two most powerful tugboats on the West Coast, The Annabelle and The Deal. The Annabelle was the only tugboat on the entire west coast that was powerful enough to handle the new Southern Pacific Railway Barges.

There were no railroad tracks leading north, so any freight headed to Portland, Seattle, Vancouver or any place in Alaska had to be put on barges in Oakland and towed to their destination. There were tracks leading east from both cities, but they were impassible during the winter months.

It seemed to Jason that the firebox on the poor Annabelle never got a chance to cool off! The two trainees had received their certification, David York as Assistant Engineer and Jeremy Dales as First Mate. Their relationship never became a problem, although the entire crew knew about it.

Jason had insisted on hiring an extra deck hand and also a helper in the Engine Room, never did he want to be shorthanded in a storm again! They had just returned from a long haul to Alaska, loaded with crates of canned fish on the return voyage.

Captain Cutter had promised Jason a week off to make repairs and upkeep on the Annabelle, so after they had tied up at Cutter's Wharf, he told Carl to damp the fires and go "Cold Iron".

As Carl was headed down the ladder to the Engine Room, he spotted the Harbor Master's launch heading towards them. He hollered at Jason and pointed to the approaching launch. The Assistant Harbor Master was frantically waving his arms at them, Jason told Carl to hold off going Cold Iron for a bit, until they could find out what the problem was. The Assistant Harbor Master, Captain Jimmy White, jumped across the Annabelle's stern counter and ran to Jason.

He said in a panicked voice, "The Southern Pacific Steamer Mary Jane is adrift just outside the Gate and has lost both her anchors trying to stop their drift!" Carl jumped back down to his Engine Room screaming for the fireman and helper to relight the fires.

Captain White asked if he could observe and Jason nodded yes.

Jason leaped up the ladder to the wheel house and blew down the whistle tube "Let me know the minute you can roll the engine!" Carl returned his call, "NOW!"

Jason backed the Annabelle from the pier and headed her crossbay, towards The Golden Gate. He blew the horn, warning other bay traffic that an emergency was in progress.

Jason called down the whistle tube to Carl, "Give me all the old girl's got. If that steamer gets on the Farallon Rocks, we will never get her off!" The groans and clanking from the Engine Room came even louder and black coal smoke poured out the tug's stack as the Annabelle raced across the bay. They passed the rocky headlands that guarded the entrance to the bay and dashed across the open water to the Farallon Islands, 25 miles offshore.

It was getting dark as they approached the islands, Jason sent the deck hand up to the top of the wheelhouse to light the search lamp. As soon as the flame was stable in the lamp, Jason had the deck hand turn the beam back and forth until they spotted the stricken ship.

When the steamer was spotted, Jason began slowing the tug, he decided it would be best that they tow the steamer stern first to get her away from the rocks, so he slipped in under the Mary Jane's stern counter and had the steamer's crew shoot them a messenger line.

It took nearly an hour to get the tow cable made up and the Annabelle started taking a strain. The wind and the current both were working against them, Jason blew on the whistle tube, "More power, more power, we are gonna lose her!"

Down in the Engine Room, Carl had the boiler man AND the helper both shoveling coal into the fire box as fast as they could. He opened the steam throttle on the engine to the "Emergency" position and told the oiler to go help shovel more coal!

The Annabelle was straining all she was worth, the base of the smoke stack began to glow red from the enormous amount of coal that was being shoveled into her firebox! The tug squirmed and rumbled as her propeller grabbed the water to pull both vessels away from the looming rocks. Ever so slowly, almost inch by inch, the distance between the stricken steamer and the rocks began to open.

Jason pulled them nearly five miles away from the Farallon Rocks before he felt safe enough to drop the tow and make up to the bow of the steamer. It was an exhausted but triumphant tug crew who watched as the tug and her charge passed inside the rocky gates guarding San Francisco Bay.

They towed the Mary Jane to the Southern Pacific terminal and waited until she was securely moored before heading back to Cutter's Wharf.

As Captain White, the Assistant Harbor Master was leaving the tug for his own launch, he shook Jason's hand and said, "Captain, that was some of the finest seamanship I have ever seen!" Jason smiled and replied, "I had a good teacher, sir!"

After they got the Annabelle secured to her mooring station, he had Carl go cold iron. He said, "Guys, take the night off and rest, we will clean up the 'Belle in the morning." Jason spotted his little Brother, Willie, on the pier waiting for him. He thought, "When did Willie get so tall, he's not so little anymore!"

Willie grabbed his brother's hand saying, "Miz Cutter sent a pot of stew down for our supper. Come on, I got it heating on the Perfection Stove." The two brothers sat to their supper. Jason was thankful that Captain Cutter's wife had sent the stew, he was dog tired and if he didn't lie down soon, he was going to fall down.

Willie saw that his brother was exhausted, he led him to his bedroom and pulled his boots off for him, Jason was asleep before his head ever hit the pillow. Willie went around the house, turning off the lamps and locking the front door before he went to bed also.

The next morning, Jason awoke, wondering how he had gotten to bed the night before. He washed and did his morning necessaries before he started fixing breakfast for himself and Willie. Jason fixed their breakfast and as soon as he had finished, Willie hopped up saying that he had to get to school and ran off. Jason cleaned up the kitchen and then headed down to the Annabelle, where his crew was already busy making her "shipshape".

Carl told him that he needed to change out a crosshead bearing, so the engine would be unusable for about two hours. Jason was sure that would be no problem, so he told Carl to go ahead with the repairs. They scrubbed the tug down and refilled the water tanks, aired the bedding and cleaned up the small galley. Jason had the deck hand clean the gas jet on the spot light and refill the carbide rock storage canister and reseal it against moisture intrusion.

By noon, the Annabelle was spotless and the engine was repaired. Captain Cutter wandered down the wharf, he looked like a man with heavy troubles on his mind.

He smiled wanly when he saw Jason, "Jason, can you come up to the house with for a talk?" Jason said that he would and told his crew to take the rest of the day off.

The two men entered the Cutter home, Captain Cutter led Jason down the hall to his office. Georgie was sitting there, with a pile of invoices before him. He looked up and smiled at Jason, "I hear you did good work pulling in the Mary Jane last night!"

Jason grinned and replied, "I only did what you taught me!" Georgie laughed and said, "That's not what Captain White had to say."

Captain Cutter coughed to get their attention, "Jason, please have a seat." He continued, "When I started this business, I figured Georgie here would run it after me, but that doesn't look like it is going to happen now."

Jason started to protest, but the Captain cut him off, "Jason, I know Georgie can run the business side, but I need a man out on the water to run the tugs. I'm getting too old to do it much longer."

Jason became worried that the Captain was telling him that he was going to get out of the tug business. The old Captain looked at Jason, "Son, I want you as a full partner in this business with Georgie. You run the tugs, Georgie runs the office."

Jason dropped into the chair, "I, I, I, oh my, I don't know what to say, sir." Georgie laughed, "Just say yes, Jason! Sign here."

Jason looked at the papers Georgie was handing him, they were incorporation papers, "CUTTER & CROWLEY TUGBOAT COMPANY", Georgie Cutter, President, Captain Jason Crowley, Vice President and Tugboat Superintendent!

Jason looked at the two men, tears began to run down his face. He looked at Captain Cutter and said, "Sir, I don't deserve all this, but I will NEVER let you or Georgie down!"

Georgie said, "We have ordered a brand new tug, a sister to the Annabelle. Do you think that your First Mate, Jeremy Dales, is ready to be a Captain?"

Jason replied, "Well not yet but he WILL BE!"

Georgie said, "Great, the new tug won't be ready for a couple of months yet, so you have some time!"

Jason left the two Cutter men and wandered back to his own cottage. He was sitting in a chair when Willie got home from school. He looked at his brother and saw his eyes kind of glazed. He grinned and said, "So they told ya'?" Jason looked at his brother and said, "You KNEW?" Willie grinned even wider and replied, "Yeah, and guess who your new deck hand is?"

Jason just rocked in his chair, holding his head in his hands!


School let out and Willie followed Jason down to the 'Belle. Jason had warned his crew that Willie was not to have any special treatment!

Willie went about his work with a cheerful smile on his face, nothing was too dirty, too nasty or too hard. They were in San Diego after pulling three overloaded barges from Long Beach.

Jason had a telegram from Georgie that the Navy wanted three barges of equipment towed to Portland. He had already told the Navy Officer in charge that he would not accept the load if any of the barges were unstable. He had been "burned" once before by the Navy.

The Navy Officer tried to bluster and demand that Jason accept the loads and Jason calmly walked out of the man's office.

Their Freight Agent had lined up another tow that was to go to San Francisco. Jason took Willie with him to inspect the barges and showed him how to measure the balance and determine the total weight. Willie was quick with mathematics and worked out the problems as they inspected the loads.

The next morning, they made up the tow and were preparing to sail when the Navy Officer showed up, demanding to speak to the "Captain". Jason turned to him and said, "I am the Captain, may I help you?"

The Officer began again to bluster and demand, Jason cut him short, "I told you I will not accept your load until you adjust the trim and properly secure the loads on the barges."

The Officer began to scream at Jason saying that he must take the load, Jason just laughed at the man, "I suggest you get off my tug, unless you wish to be a paying passenger to San Francisco!"

Jason had Carl test the engine and the Officer jumped from the 'Belle back into his launch. As the tug and her tow slowly gained momentum, heading for the harbor breakwater, Jason looked back at the red faced Officer, who was angrily shaking his fist at him.

Jason thought, "I hope that is the last I see of that fool!"

The trip went exceptionally well, the weather held and the barges tracked perfectly. They dropped their barges at Freight Forwarder's Pier in Oakland before heading for the coaling dock. Carl had warned Jason that the fuel bunkers were getting low, so they stopped at the Coaling Pier to replenish their fuel supply. It was just getting dark when they tied up at Cutter's Wharf.

Jason looked up and saw that the sign now read, "CUTTER & CROWLEY" He grinned and pointed it out to Willie. He had worked with Willie on the trip and decided that his brother was ready to be a Rated Deck Hand, so he signed Willie's Document Card indicating that he was a Rated Deck Hand.

After securing the 'Belle, the brothers headed for their home. They were both tired and were looking for a bath and supper before going to bed. As they were finishing their meal, there was a knock on their door, Willie jumped up to answer it, Annabelle Cutter stood there.

She said, "Captain Jason, Daddy asked that you come up to the office after you have eaten." Jason thought, "I guess that Navy Officer is still complaining."

Jason headed up to the Cutter Home and Annabelle remained to talk with Willie, who told her of his adventures as a Rated Deck Hand!

Jason sat down with Captain Cutter and Georgie to give them his voyage report. They said nothing about his confrontation with the Officer, so he related to them what had happened.

Both the Captain and Georgie agreed that Jason had handled the situation properly and nothing more was said about the matter. Georgie entered Willie's new rating in the books, raising his pay to $8 a week! They discussed the new tug and told Jason that they had hired a Captain Fellows to command the Deal as her Captain was returning back east.

Jason thought for a moment and said, "Isn't he the Captain of that old harbor tug in Stockton?" Captain Cutter told him that he was and hoped that Jason would train the new Captain on the Annabelle for a couple of trips before the new tugboat was ready.

Jason readily agreed and handed Georgie all the freight invoices from their trip before heading home.

Without thinking, he opened the front door to enter his and Willie's cottage, suddenly there was rapid movement in the parlor and both Willie and Annabelle were sitting primly on the sofa with guilty looks on their very red faces. Jason said nothing, but thought to himself, "Hoo boy, I guess I need to have a birds and bees discussion with my little brother!"

He told Willie to escort Annabelle home and that he would see him in the morning. Jason was almost asleep when the door to his bedroom opened and Willie came to stand beside his bed.

Willie stammered, "Eeerr, ugh, Jason, I eer, uhm I kinda like Miss Annabelle." Jason grinned at his not so little Brother and just hugged him, saying that they would discuss the matter in the morning.

When morning rolled around, the two brothers sat at the table, both wearing red faces as Jason explained to his brother about proper deportment with young ladies, especially those he felt affection for.

The next tow was to take them again to Yakutat, Alaska with two barges of more canning machinery for the fish cannery. They would take on additional coal at Astoria, Oregon and again on their return in Seattle, where they were to deliver two barges of canned fish.

Jason was not overly happy about the trip, but he figured that it was summer and at least the weather would be good. They would be gone for two months and it would give Willie time to work on his Mate's ticket. It also would make for time for Willie to cool off from Miss Annabelle's sweet smiles!

Jason had sat down with his 15 year old brother for a discussion that left both of their faces fiery red.

They picked up their load at the Joshua Hendy Iron Foundry pier, with Willie carefully calculating the weights and load distribution before Jason would accept the tow. The barges were heavily laden, but they both tracked straight as they headed north along the coast.

Jason had Willie on the wheel almost immediately after departing San Francisco and by the time they docked at the coaling pier in Astoria, he had gained confidence in his ability to steer the tug and her tow.

They topped off the fuel bunkers as well as the fresh water tanks before continuing the voyage. As they entered the Gulf of Alaska, they encountered a fierce summer storm. They fought the storm for three days before it finally blew itself out.

They had no damage or injuries, but Jason was concerned about the number 1 tow cable being frayed. There was nothing they could do about it, except to watch it carefully. They finally reached Yakutat a day earlier than they had estimated, after assisting the cannery crew in placing the equipment barges, they accepted the two loaded barges for transport. They replaced the Number 1 tow cable before departing for Seattle.

Jason was happy they were taking them only as far as Seattle, he wanted no repeat of the disaster that befell them before, off the coast of Oregon! After delivering the barges of canned fish, Jason checked with the Southern Pacific Railway Freight Office. They had four empty barges to be returned to San Francisco, so Jason accepted them for tow.

Running light, they made rapid time sailing south along the coast. They hit dense fog two days out from San Francisco, making them slow way down and blast their fog horn continuously. It was an exhausted crew who finally tied up at CUTTER & CROWLEY Wharf, desperately glad to hear the silence of no fog horn!

Jason calculated Willie's time as Rated Deck Hand, he had only another month needed before he would be eligible for rating as Mate.

Captain Garrett Fellows reported to Jason the next morning, explaining that he was to observe for the next month, when the Deal was to be ready. Jason liked him immediately and they were to remain close friends for the rest of their lives.

They spent the day doing upkeep on the 'Belle, Carl finally chased down an annoying "clack" in the feedwater pump that supplied the boiler, a broken valve follower was discovered when they completely dismantled the pump.

That afternoon, Captain Cutter delivered a handful of freight orders, they were to leave the next morning for Monterey and then on south to Long Beach and Los Angeles. On their return trip, they would have a heavy tow, two Southern Pacific locomotives, destined for Oakland.

Jason was concerned about the locomotives as they were at the extreme limit of the weigh capacity of the barge, even with just one locomotive on each barge!

Captain Fellows was fascinated with the roominess of the 'Belle, and the ease at which she maneuvered. They sailed out the "Gate" and beyond the current before turning south. Jason explained to his visitor about getting out beyond the effects of the Humboldt Current. Garrett Fellows had never experienced open-ocean towing, so he paid close attention to everything that Jason told him. He even spent time in the Engine Room with Carl and his crew, he wanted to know about everything concerned with a larger tug, about the same size as the one he was to command.

The weather was congenial and the voyage south seemed to go very quickly. Towing two empty barges to Monterey was an easy task for the large tugboat, they picked up two fully loaded barges from Gearson Sea Food, all canned tuna and mackerel.

They had experience with Jason's insistence on a balanced load before, so neither Jason nor Willie could find fault with their loading. They ran into minor patches of fog on their way into Long Beach, but not enough to cause them a delay.

They delivered the two barges to the Southern Pacific Railway wharf and took into tow, two empty barges for delivery to the Southern Pacific terminal in Los Angeles, less than a day's tow from Long Beach.

When they looked at the barges in Los Angeles, loaded with a locomotive each, Jason shuddered. Each barge was loaded to its limits, the loads were even, but he prayed for good weather. A storm would be a serious matter, as heavily loaded as those barges were!

Jason elected to delay their departure until the next morning. He wanted clear daylight to maneuver the heavily loaded barges through the treacherous currents outside Los Angeles Harbor.

As they turned northward, a sharp crosswind caught the high sided locomotives and caused the barges to veer landward. Jason steadied the tug and slowed the engine so that he had more control. The crosswind continued to cause them problems until they passed Pigeon Point Lighthouse, then it changed direction slightly and the windage effect became less of a problem.

As they neared the Farallon Rocks, marking the entrance to San Francisco Bay, dense fog closed in on them and Jason was forced to reduced speed to a crawl. Blowing the fog horn at regular intervals soon had everyone's nerves on edge. Jason stationed Willie up in the bow, to give warning of any other vessel as they eased slowly into the bay. Willie spotted one ship, a small fishing schooner, which promptly turned away from them.

As they passed the headlands, the fog miraculously dissipated and they had clear sailing to the Southern Pacific terminal.

Jason was mightily glad to transfer custody of those two barges to the Southern Pacific Terminal Captain, he felt like he had been walking on eggs the whole trip from Los Angeles. The locomotives were not in working order and were being delivered so that they could be towed in for repair in the railway shops.

They finally arrived on San Francisco Bay and stopped at the Coaling Pier to top off the fuel bunkers before heading for home, the sight of the CUTTER & CROWLEY sign was indeed welcome!

The next morning, Jason was doing "End of Voyage" reports when Willie brought him his Rating card. He had added up the days and he had just enough to apply for his Rating as Mate! Jason signed the card and promised to give it to Captain Cutter that same day.

The day got busy, Carl found a crack in the reversing rocker of the engine and it required tearing down the entire engine to get to it! He started immediately, saying it would be at least two days!

That afternoon, the Deal had to take a tow for them from South San Francisco to Stockton. Since the Deal was smaller and less powerful, they would be gone three days. The engine repairs were taking longer than Carl had estimated and there were several customers with tows that required a tug the size of the 'Belle.

When the job was finally completed, Captain Cutter brought down an armload to shipping orders for the "Belle to work through. There was some "other" paperwork that he handed Jason separately, with a smile on his face. Jason said he would take care of it.

As soon as the "Belle was ready, they cast off for Stockton, there were four barges of sacked rice backed up, needing transportation to Sperry Mills in Oakland. Jason ran the 'Belle upriver as fast as he dared and they tied up at Bastion Brothers Wharf. Willie hopped out onto the pier and went to inspect the barges. He declared them ready or transport, so the crew made up the tow.

As Jason eased the tug and tow out to mid-channel, he called Willie up to the Wheel House. When Willie reported to his Captain, Jason handed him his rating card and said, "Take us to San Francisco, Mr. Mate!"

Willie went google-eyed as he looked at the card he held in his hand, he was rated First Mate, Tugboats, under 400 tons, any ocean. He looked at his brother, then at the wheel and started to say, "uuuuuh I" Jason interrupted him, "Take the wheel, First Mate, I need a nap!"

Jason left Willie in the wheel house, still stammering. He stayed within earshot, but Willie navigated the 'Belle all the way to Sperry Mills. Jason did help him drop off the barges, but Willie did most of the work.

He then told Willie to, "Take us home!" Willie looked at his older brother and said, "Aye,aye, Captain, sir!" with a huge grin on his face. They were the Brothers Crowley!


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