Castle Roland

Tugboat Captain

by Charles Bird


Chapter 4

Posted: 5 Nov 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 team of the Brothers Crowley became well known on San Francisco Bay, they were efficient and shippers came to appreciate their prompt delivery and pleasant attitude. They had just returned from a difficult tow from Los Angeles, three barges loaded with two Southern Pacific Locomotives and six box cars.

Despite placing the box cars closest to the tug, the tow insisted upon wild swings as the crosswind caught the high sided box cars. The brothers fought to control the tow over the entire distance!

As they were about to call "Cold Iron" and secure the Annabelle at their home pier as Jason heard fire horns begin to sound across the bay in San Francisco. It was a sound every sailor on "The Bay" hoped never to hear.

He immediately began to blow the horn to recall his crew and told the Engine Room to cram more coal into the 'Belle's boiler! As steam pressure was building, he ran down to the main deck with Willie and showed him how to run the fire pumps.

The minute Carl reported up the whistle tube that they had sufficient steam pressure to roll the engine Jason began backing the tug away from the pier. The Annabelle was the largest tug on the bay and had the largest marine fire pumps ever built by the Joshua Hendy Iron Works.

They could see flames leaping above the piers across the bay, Jason told Carl to open the throttle on the engine to EMERGENCY and he began to blow the steam horn to warn other vessels of an emergency in progress as they raced across the bay.

As they approached the flaming pier, Willie began warming up the fire pump and priming its pump head. Jason slowed, coming to a stop on the windward side of the flaming pier, Willie opened the steam valve to the fire pump and then Jason maneuvered the 'Belle to aim the fixed fire water nozzles directly into the flames.

Other tugs with fire pumps, including the 'Deal arrived and added their water streams to the fire.

The pier was loaded with combustibles and the flames threatened to jump to adjacent piers. The three tugs equipped with fire pumps poured water onto the pier until daylight, when, at last, the flames began to die down. They had prevented the conflagration from jumping to other piers or spreading to the city itself, but the burning pier was a complete loss!

It was a tired out crew who headed the Annabelle back across the bay to the CUTTER & CROWLEY Wharf. Jason ordered the crew to secure the tug and go "Cold Iron". They would clean up the tug after they had all rested.

Captain Orin Cutter met Jason as he was heading to his home for a hot meal and a soft bed. The Captain said, "Jason, how do you do it, every time I think you and the 'Belle have gone the mile, you up and do something even greater!"

Jason grinned and replied, "Good Crew, I guess."

The two men shook hands and Jason joined his brother, Willie, in a hot breakfast before collapsing in bed for a nap, still fully clothed.

They were awakened later in the afternoon by a furious pounding on their door. Jason answered the door, it was Paul saying that Captain Cutter needed him up at the house the fastest! Jason jumped into his boots and beat feet up to the Cutter Home. Annabelle answered the door, as she admitted him she asked, "Is Willie up yet?" Jason was tempted to tell her no, but he told her the truth, that Willie was eating his lunch.

Captain Cutter invited him into the office, Georgie was sitting there with a grin on his face and Jason wondered what they had in store for him this time.

Captain Cutter asked, "How much time does Willie have on his Mate's ticket?" Jason thought for a bit and replied, "About 18 months." Captain Cutter sounded relieved when he said, "Captain Fellows has decided to take a job with another company and we need a Captain for the 'Deal".

He continued, "Worse, the new tug will be ready in another two months." Georgie said, "We want Willie to command the 'Deal and for you to train another Captain on the Annabelle. As soon as he is ready, we will put Willie on the 'Belle, you on the new tug and the other Captain on the 'Deal".

Jason's head was swimming. "Eeer me, Willie ……"

Captain Cutter and Willie both laughed, "Only you could be surprised, Jason. Do you have any idea the number of customers you two have made happy?"

Jason was still confused as he walked back home, his brother, a CAPTAIN? Little Willie? Then he remembered that Willie was now taller than him and outweighed him by more than 20 pounds.

As he opened his front door, he was confronted by that "little" Brother and Captain Cutter's daughter, Annabelle in a clenched embrace, kissing each other!

Annabelle screamed and Willie stood in front of her saying, "Jason, IhaveaskedMissAnnabelletomarrymeandshehassaidyes".

His chest was heaving with emotion. Jason collected his wits and said to the two, "I guess from what Willie just spluttered out is that I am going to get me a sister-in-law?"

Jason was enjoying flabbergasted look on his brother's face. Willie said, "Yu yu , you don't care?"

Jason laughed, "Of course I care, when is the wedding?" Willie looked miserable, "I gotta ask her Daddy tonight!"

Jason thought back to the conversation earlier and now it was all clear to him. He said, "Oh, I don't think there will be a problem up at Cutter House."

Willie exclaimed, "You DON'T?"

Jason just laughed, "No, I don't, CAPTAIN WILLIE!" Willie looked at his brother as if he had just sprouted horns and a tail, he squeaked, "CAPTAIN?" Jason nodded his head as he hugged his brother.

Two days later Telle Johanson reported on the Annabelle as the new First Mate. Jason walked his brother over to the Deal, tied up at the pier as her Captain had already left employment with Cutter & Crowley. The 'Deal was scheduled for local runs until Captain Willie Crowley became familiar with her. Her crew had served under his brother, Jason, when he commanded the "Deal, they expected nothing less out of Willie. They would not be disappointed!

Telle Johanson was from Minnesota and had served as First Mate on a large tugboat on the Great Lakes. The very next trip was a test of fire for the new First Mate, they were again headed to Yakutat, Alaska. The cannery was expanding for a third time and there were three barges of machinery waiting for them in Seattle to be delivered.

Georgie had lined up a mixed load of machinery and sawmill parts to Seattle for them to haul on two barges. They picked up one barge at Freight Forwarder's and then they went to Joshua Hendy for the sawmill parts. Both barges were heavily laden, Jason showed his new First Mate how to calculate loading weights and weight distribution.

Telle caught on rapidly as he already had experience with poorly loaded barges! They were topped off with fuel, water and food, so Jason said goodbye to his brother and headed for the open sea.

He showed Telle how to swing out beyond the current before heading north. They fought a head wind for three days before it loosened its grip on them. A week and a half out from San Francisco, they passed the San Juan Islands on their way to Seattle, the fog was horrible going through the Straits of San Juan de Fuca, but cleared shortly thereafter.

They dropped their tow at the Forest Products Company pier and after getting the Bills of Lading signed, they headed for Northwest Canner's wharf, where the machinery barges were loaded and waiting for them.

While Telle was inspecting the barges, Jason sent the signed Bills of Lading to their Seattle Agent by a messenger boy. He tipped the boy 25 cents and the boy saluted with a smile!

Some adjustments were needed to balance one barge, but they were hooked up by dark. Jason decided to delay departure until daylight, hoping for a better passage through the Straits.

Jason and Telle had supper at a waterfront diner that was surprisingly good. He was impressed with Telle's freight handling knowledge, he hoped his navigation was equally good as they had to cross the Gulf of Alaska and it was nearing the fog season.

They departed Seattle at first light with full fuel bunkers and both water tanks topped off. As the "Belle headed north, the wind began to blow something fierce and soon they were fighting huge swells and rain squalls. It took two men on the wheel to keep the tug and tow on course.

They fought the weather all the way to Yakutat, when it mysteriously abated. They sailed into the small bay occupied by the makeshift cannery under clear skies and almost no wind. It took them two days to position the barges for the cannery folks and then take up tow on a single barge of crates of canned fish.

Jason was anxious to depart, he expected the weather to close in on them at any time. The barometer on the bridge was dropping rapidly.

They sailed for home at dawn, heading south. The seas were heavy, making steering and course difficult. Again it took two on the wheel to keep the tug on course.

One of Carl's boilermen was thrown to the deck plates down in the Engine Room and suffered a broken arm and burns on his side. Carl had to upgrade a helper temporarily, to keep the boiler fed with coal. Despite the poor weather conditions, they made good time and passed Astoria Lighthouse a day ahead of schedule.

The trip up river to Portland was uneventful, he had planned on dropping the injured boilerman off in Portland but the man protested violently, so he and Carl relented.

They dropped the canned fish off and took up two barges of sawn lumber for delivery to San Rafael Builder's Supply.

The remainder of the trip was fair, only intermittent fog plagued them the whole way. As they entered San Francisco Bay, they discovered that a longshoreman's labor strike was in progress, so they brought their load to Cutter & Crowley Wharf and tied it up for the duration.

As Jason signaled the Engine Room to go Cold Iron, he wondered and HOPED that Willie and Annabelle's excitement had calmed!

Captain Cutter met him as he was hiking up the pier, the old man had an excited gleam in his eye as he asked Jason to come up to the house for a "spell". They walked into the office, Georgie was shuffling through paperwork and looked up with a smile as the two men entered the room.

Captain Cutter offered Jason coffee, which he accepted gladly. He then asked Jason, "How did Telle Johanson work out?" Jason told him that the man was a competent seaman, good navigator.

He then asked Jason if he thought Telle could Captain the 'Deal?

Jason got worried, "What has Willie done?" Georgie laughed, "No, No. Willie is just fine!" Captain Cutter went on, "Our new tug is ready and we want YOU, Jason, to be her Captain. She will be the finest tug in the West We added 16 feet to her just before she was finished, so she will also be the biggest tug in the West!"

Jason looked at the two men and said, "Well whooo…" Georgie interrupted him, "Willie is to be Captain of the Annabelle! After all, he is going to marry her namesake!"

Captain Cutter continued, "You can take your old crew with you and we have a new First Mate for you, Arne Halbertson. He is from Chicago Harbor, has lots of experience, but all on smaller tugs."

Jason asked, "Have we a name for the new tug yet?" Georgie quickly interrupted, saying, "I'll tell you later!"

Captain Cutter continued, "We need to make these changes right away, the boatyard is charging us storage for every day we leave the new tug in their yard."

Jason replied, "Alright, get me a new mate onboard and we will be set to go." The Captain chuckled, "He should be on board now! Let's go down and tell everyone where they are going!"

For a short time, it was like a circus, duffels were carried between tugboats as the crew changes took effect. Willie had a huge grin on his face as he referred to his older brother as "PASSENGER"!


Before Jason had left the Cutter house, Georgie had whispered to him that the name of the new tug was the "Captain Orrin"!

Jason thought it fitting to honor the man who had done so much for him and the company. The 'Belle sailed the next morning with her new Captain and crew, Jason and his crew were just passengers along for the ride to Vallejo.

They headed upbay to Vallejo and the Rule Boatyards, where the newest tug, the "Captain Orrin Cutter" waited for them. When they arrived, Jason was gobsmacked, the tug was huge! Not only was it longer than any tug he had ever seen, it was also greater of beam!

As he and Carl inspected the new vessel, he saw that it was equipped with two fire pumps, one on each side and the fire water nozzles were mounted on swivels.

The engine was a new model and of greater horsepower than that on the 'Belle. There were two spotlights on the top of the wheel house and there was a steam powered winch on the stern for adjusting the tow cable.

When Paul saw the galley, he nearly screamed in delight, it had not only a stove, but also a warming oven to keep meals hot until they could be eaten by the crew!

The 'Orrin required two firemen in the Engine Room to keep the boiler fed with coal and also two deck hands, one to manage the cables and the other to steer the vessel under the direction of the Mate or Captain. It simply was a huge tugboat.

Willie and the 'Belle departed to take up tugboat business at Mare Island, they were to tow two barges of scrap machinery to Joshua Hendy Iron works.

Jason and his crew thoroughly checked out the 'Orrin before he signed for the new vessel. He decided to delay sailing until the next morning, he wanted to make a "Grand Entrance" at Cutter & Crowley.

The next morning, Carl and his Engine Room crew brought steam pressure up, bringing the 'Orrin to life for the first time. When he had notified Jason up the whistle tube, Jason gave a joyful blast on the steam horn, saying goodbye to Rule Boatyards.

He backed 'Orrin away from the pier and headed downbay, towards their home. As they were mooring at Cutter & Crowley Wharf, he gave the horn an extra long and loud blast, making sure everyone around was awake and knew there was a new tug on the bay!

That the 'Orrin was huge was noticed by everyone, what was less apparent was that the tug was also the most powerful on the West Coast!

Their first assignment was to take five barges of Southern Pacific locomotives and freight cars to Los Angeles. It was to be a test of the 'Orrin's capabilities. They departed Cutter & Crowley Wharf at first light, with full bunkers and water tanks, headed for The Southern Pacific Marine Terminal in Oakland.

They drew a crowd of onlookers at the Terminal, nobody had ever seen such a large tug as the 'Orrin. It took most of the day to make up the tow, they had to experiment with the new steam towing winch. Jason's new First Mate, Arne Halbertson, another Great Lake Tug Boat Mariner from Minnesota, had heard of tow winches, but this was the first one he had ever actually seen.

It was late afternoon as they headed out the Golden gate towards the Farallon Islands to make their turn south. Jason guided his tug, with a Deck Hand manning the wheel, as they turned south. It was a new experience for him to not be on the wheel himself and he was not entirely comfortable with it yet.

The new engine, an improved model of compound steam engine was performing faultlessly, driving the tug and its heavily laden barges with ease. When Arne came up to the wheel house to relieve Jason, he told him that Paul had outdone himself in his part time job as cook!

Jason ate his meal and then Paul brought out a fruit duff, Jason agreed, Paul's talents were being wasted as an oiler in the Engine Room.

Jason catnapped for a couple of hours and then headed back to the wheel house so that Arne could get some sleep. The run south to Los Angeles was uneventful, the weather was calm and they had no fog to contend with.

As they pulled into the Southern Pacific Terminal, the wharf was loaded with gawkers, anxious for a glimpse of the huge tug boat.

The Railroad Marine Superintendent could hardly believe his eyes when he saw five heavily laden barges behind the huge tug boat. As Jason nudged each barge up to the off-load tracks, he was amazed at the fine control he had over the tug.

They had a shipping order to pick up four barges of mining equipment to go to a new copper mine operation near Acapulco, Mexico. Jason was not enthused, but Georgie had already contracted for the load. Jason was not familiar with those waters and he had purchased new charts before they had departed San Francisco. The charts had been prepared by the British Admiralty and he hoped they were accurate.

Arne had the shipper readjust the load on one barge, it was not sitting level. The shipper tried to argue, but Jason backed Arne up, no adjust-no shipment! After the load was readjusted, they made up the tow. They found that using the tow winch was very much easier and faster than the old method of making up by moving the tug and it required less effort and adjustment.

It was again late afternoon before they were ready to depart, there had been a line of tugs at the coaling wharf, all waiting to bunker. Jason was uneasy about departing without full bunkers as he had no firsthand knowledge of bunkering facilities in Acapulco. They had to drop the tow to enter the fueling dock and then hook up again after they had filled the fuel bunkers.

They passed the harbor breakwater just as darkness fell. Turning south, Jason stood out from the coast 25 miles to ensure they did not encounter any local fishing boats in the dark.

The run south, along the Baja coast was calm with gentle seas and wind, but as they turned east towards the mainland coast of Mexico, they encountered heavy swells and contrary winds. It became necessary to have two men on the wheel to stay on course.

Fortunately, they were not far from Acapulco, Jason was thankful when he spotted the Acapulco Light. The charts he had purchased were excellent and he felt well justified in their expense.

They arrived in Acapulco Harbor just before noon and had to contend with a Customs Official who claimed he spoke no English. The only person who knew any Spanish was the oiler, Paul, who remembered a few words from his childhood days in South Texas, on a cattle ranch.

They later found out that the official spoke excellent English, it was a matter of harassment!

The mining company officials accepted the barges and signed a surety bond for their return in the future.

There was a telegram waiting for them from Georgie, they were to tow a disabled US Navy ship from La Paz back to Long Beach. The run up to La Paz, on the inside coast of Baja was a short and easy trip. The Captain of the disabled ship was so happy to see an American Tug Boat, Jason was afraid the man was going to kiss him in joy!

Jason backed the 'Orrin up under the bow of the sailing ship and the Navy crew shot a messenger line down to the tug. They made up the tow cable and adjusted its length with the winch. The Navy Captain was so anxious to get away from La Paz, he begged Jason to depart immediately. It was a clear, moonlit night, so Jason had no reason not to do as the Captain asked. They pulled out and skirted the reef, then headed south to reach the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Again they encountered heavy seas as they turned north beyond Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Baja. The seas eased a bit as they travelled north along the coast of Baja, but the winds remained contrary all the way to Long Beach. Jason was very glad he had topped off the bunkers before departing for Acapulco as fighting the head winds had consumed large quantities of coal.

Jason later found out that the Navy ship was having troubles with desertion and that was why the Captain was so anxious to depart as soon as possible!

They eased into Long Beach Harbor at daybreak and turned the disabled ship over to a Navy Tug.

They returned to Los Angeles, where they had two barges of cannery supplies to be delivered to Monterey. The barges were light and they made good time up the coast of California. There was a telegram again waiting for them, Pacific Canners had 4 barges of canned fish to be delivered to the Southern Pacific Marine Terminal in San Francisco. Jason had dealt with them before and they knew he would not accept poorly loaded barges, Arne could find no fault with the loads, so they made up the tow and headed for San Francisco.

The closer they got to San Francisco, the heavier and more sullen the seas became, fortunately, it was not far and they slipped into the harbor before the storm broke. It had been a long and hard trip, all hands were happy to see the Cutter & Crowley sign on their home wharf!

It was getting dark when they arrived, so Jason told them to go Cold Iron and they would clean up the tug in the morning. He saw the 'Belle moored across the pier from his berth, he smiled as he thought of seeing his not so little baby brother!


Jason hiked the length of the wharf and headed up the hill to the cottage that he and his brother shared. As he walked in, he smelled something cooking that emitted a delightful smell.

Looking in the kitchen, he saw Annabelle hard at work in front of the stove. She looked up at him and waved a spoon in his direction, "Get cleaned up, supper is nearly ready!" Jason thought, "Lordy, they are not even married yet and she sounds like a wife!"

He said nothing, however and he went upstairs to get cleaned up. He encountered Willie, who was sporting a huge grin. He said, "She cooks, too, Bro!" Jason just lifted his eyebrows at his brother.

The meal was good and both brothers ate until they groaned. Afterwards, the three of them sat in the parlor and the happy couple related to Jason their plans for the wedding, which was to be the very next week!

Willie looked pleadingly as his older brother, "Jason, will you be my best man?" Jason grinned and said, "Sure, but it will cost you." Willie looked edgy and asked, "What?" Jason replied, "Oh, some home cooked meals ought to do it." Annabelle laughed and said, "DONE!"

The day of the wedding finally arrived, poor Willie was a nervous wreck. Captain Cutter had wisely scheduled the Annabelle for maintenance otherwise Willie might have piled her up on Alcatraz Island!

The crews of all the Cutter & Crowley tugs were in attendance as were friends of Annabelle. Jason walked with Willie down the aisle. Willie was shaking like a leaf in a high wind!

Captain Cutter escorted Annabelle to the alter; she was as beautiful as a picture.

After the wedding, they had a photographer take some glass plates of the couple, before they ran off to Fresno on a honeymoon.

While the new couple was away, Captain Cutter complained of feeling dizzy. He refused to see a doctor and at not quite dawn, Jason heard a furious pounding on his door.

He opened to find Matilda Cutter, tears flowing from her eyes, "Jason, he's gone!"

Jason threw on some clothes and ran with her to the Cutter House, Georgie was hobbling down the hall, tears pouring down his face. He grabbed onto Jason, like a man drowning. "Jason, he died in his sleep!" Georgie cried. Jason held his friend and helped him to a chair.

Georgie pointed to a bundle of papers on the table and said, "Jason, he wanted you and Willie to have this."

Jason looked at the papers, they were title transfer of all the assets of Cutter and & Crowley to Jason and William Crowley, with the provision that Georgie and Matilda would be taken care of for the rest of their lives!

Jason was stunned at the generosity of the gift. He stammered, "Buu bu.." Georgie cut him off, "No, Jason. Mother and I both agree that it is for the best. We know, beyond any doubt, that we will have our home and our lives with you and Willie guiding the company."

He continued, "Papa wants you to call the company, Crowley Brothers Tugboat Service!"


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