Castle Roland

Tugboat Captain

by Charles Bird


Chapter 5

Posted: 12 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.


Jason kept the 'ORRIN and the 'BELLE tied up to the pier while they organized their new company. Georgie tried to object, but the brothers insisted that he remain as the Business Agent for the new firm and they also insisted he take a minority share of the company, he finally accepted a 25% share of Crowley Tugboat Service.

While the "Belle was tied up, Jason had fitters come from Joshua Hendy to install a second fire pump on her as well as the new type fire nozzles on swivels. He also made arrangements for the same to be installed on the 'DEAL, he wasn't going to let his tugs be endangered because of fire monitors that could not be aimed rapidly.

When he felt that the business was secure, both tugs returned to service. The 'BELLE took up a tow to the new Freight Forwarder's Pier in San Diego and he headed out on the 'ORRIN with lumber and sawmill machinery for Longview Timber in Astoria.

The winter season had arrived and both Captains encountered heavy seas and contrary winds.

When Jason arrived in Astoria, there was a telegraph messenger waiting for him on the pier, Northwest Canners in Yakutat had an emergency, two of their barges were coming loose and they had no way of retrieving them!

Jason quickly had his bunkers topped off and water tanks filled before he headed north in rescue.

Carl blew all the accumulated salts out of his boiler, knowing that Jason was going to need full power and he didn't want the boiler priming or water carryover to get to the engine! (Author's note: In those days tugboats did not have evaporators to produce salt free water for boiler water makeup, they merely pumped raw seawater into the boilers when they had run out of fresh water in their tanks.)

They left Astoria and crossed the river bar just after daylight, as Jason headed north, he blew down the whistle tube and told Carl to put the throttle up to FULL as the tug raced northward.

Running light, the 'ORRIN pitched and tossed the entire way, only good fortune kept any of the crew from injury. Even running light, it was a fifteen day ordeal to get to Yakutat.

The seas were running heavy in the bay and the cannery barges were tossing like toys in the bathtub.

One barge was held secure with a single remaining line and the other was completely free, depending only upon an anchor to keep it from going out to sea.

It took them a week of nudging and pushing to put the barges back in position in the heavy seas.

The cannery had three injured workers they asked Jason to transport back to Seattle. The 'ORRIN departed as soon as the injured workers were safely onboard, bunking was going to be a problem as no tugboat was equipped for passengers. Injured passengers were even worse as they had no one to attend to their needs.

The barometer was falling at an alarming rate and Jason was expecting a full gale to develop at anytime. The seas were already rising and he knew they were in for a rough ride. As they sailed south, the sky grew sullen and dark and the wind became sharp and threatening.

The storm caught up to them off Ketchikan in the Gulf of Alaska. Huge seas were breaking across their bow and the tug, as big as she was, was tossing like a cork! There would be no sleep for any of them that night if they wanted to be alive to see another day.

Jason had to slow down, just to keep the screw in the water. He was ever so glad to see the San Juan light and be able to take shelter behind the San Juan Islands as they entered the channel to Seattle. Taking shelter in the lee of the islands probably saved their lives as the seas were already rolling completely over the massive tug.

They were heartily glad to see their Factor's pier and get tied up. They transferred the injured cannery workers ashore and Jason went to see their Factor for a cargo further south.

There was a telegram waiting for him from Georgie, they had a four barge tow of cut lumber for Los Angeles. Cut lumber was a favorite pull, it stacked well and was easy to level. The sides were even and regular so there was nothing to catch the wind.

They eased the tug over to the Wenatchee Land and Timber pier to find their tow ready for them.

Arne checked the load over carefully and found no reason to make any changes, so they proceeded to make up the tow, leaving a bit more distance behind the tug due to the heavy seas they were expecting.

They sailed the next morning, after topping off the bunkers and water tanks. As they headed south, the winds picked up, whipping the seas into a frenzy, waves cascading over the bow and smashing up against the wheel house, making the whole tug shudder.

Jason put a Deckhand and a helper on the wheel each shift to ensure that steerage was not lost in the heavy seas. (this story takes place before the days of powered hydraulic systems on the oversized rudder of tugboats)

They fought their way south, almost to the Los Angeles Harbor light, before it began to moderate, he carefully made his turn into the harbor, grateful for smooth water at last.

Jason dropped off his tow at the Consignee's terminal in accordance with his contract with Wenatchee Land and Timber Company before heading to the coaling pier. The heavy weather had gobbled coal at a frightening rate.

The tug ahead of him was the "Belle!" His Brother screamed across to him, "Meet me at the Factor's!" Jason signaled he understood and nosed the 'ORRIN under the coal chute to top off their bunkers.

He told Carl also to have the water tanks flushed and refilled before they headed for their Factor's pier as they tasted like salt water had gotten in the tanks.

As soon as they were tied up at the Factor's pier, Jason stepped onto the dock, leaving Arne in charge of securing the 'ORRIN for the night. His muscles were all wound up tight, he knew it was going to be a hard night to get some sleep.

He met his brother in the Factor's office, he had cargos for the two of them to take back to San Francisco. They were all talking over a cup of coffee and the Factor, Mr. Stephanson, mentioned that there was a need for a large tug out in Hawaii, pulling barges of sugarcane to the mills.

Jason asked, "How much business?" The man replied, "Well, I can write contracts right now for full time, 10 months out of the year." Jason scratched his head and winked at Willie. As the two walked out of the Factor's office, Jason whispered to Willie, "New steel tug?"


The brothers and their tugs made up their tows the next morning, both headed to San Francisco Bay. Jason's tow took him to Freight Forwarder's, where he dropped off all four barges.

Willie had two stops to make, Joshua Hendy and Western California Canners upriver in Antioch. When Willie arrived at Crowley Wharf, a runner was waiting for him to come up to the office right away. When he got there, Jason and Georgie were deep in discussion.

They tuned to Willie and asked him to join them. Jason said, "Could Bay Steel build us a boat?" Georgie replied, "Probably, their ways are certainly big enough, but I would like to have Henry Rule do the design."

Jason thought for a moment, what about the engine?" Willie decided to have his say, "George Westinghouse has developed a new triple-expansion engine that is more powerful and more economical than our present compound engines and are about the same dimensions."

Georgie thought for a moment, then said, "You know, they are heavier than the compound engines, but if we build this tug, we can make it big enough for one of those new engines."

Jason asked, "Do we have the financing?" Georgie smiled, "You bet, in fact, we could build it without financing if we had too!"

Jason thought for a few moments and then said, "I vote for building it. Who do we get to skipper such a big tug?" Both Georgie and Willie were holding their sides, they were laughing so hard. When they finally caught their breath, they said together, "YOU, CAPTAIN JASON!"

As the summer season approached, the towing business picked up strongly, all four tugs were booked solid, the poor old Calliope was pulled out of semi-retirement and put to work hauling barges around the bay. Between the sugar refinery in Crockett and the cannery in Antioch, the Calliope was fully booked.

They let the design contract for the new tug to Henry Rule, telling him roughly what they wanted. Two months later, he brought them designs to review, it was going to be the largest American tugboat to date!

Georgie and Willie conspired together for a name, but they wouldn't tell Jason about it, yet. With the design approved, they let the contract to Bay Steel for construction.

Every time Jason was in port, he would be found watching the progress in constructing the new tug, little knowing that it was going to be his tug in both name AND command!

They landed a contract with the Kenai Mining Company to tow an entire copper smelter to the Copper River on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. It would require both the 'ORRIN and the 'BELLE to make the tow in tandem!

Jason ordered a towing winch to be installed on the 'BELLE and they paid extra for immediate installation by Joshua Hendy. It would be the only way they could balance the load underway, with two tugs pulling in tandem.

The day of departure, there were crowds of Maritime folks out to watch the largest tow ever to be assembled on San Francisco Bay. The local newspapers had been running stories about the new tug for several weeks now.

The two mighty tugs took up the strain, the cables groaning under the load. The mates adjusted the cables with the tow winches and they slowly gained momentum towards the Gate.

The 'Deal followed a short distance in case of problems, but she left off as they passed the headlands, blowing her steam horn in a farewell. They sailed out past the Farallon Islands before Jason signaled to make a turn north.

Both Captains were as skittish as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! This was something never before done anywhere on the West Coast and only a few attempts had been made on the far coast.

It was typical mid-summer weather, light fog and little wind or seas. They headed north and met their collier off the San Juan Light as planned.

Fuel consumption was heavy and both tugs kept two men busy full time shoveling coal into the boiler furnaces. After bunkering at sea from the collier, they resumed the tow and continued their course northward.

They had been at sea for four weeks before the Kenai Light was spotted. Not entirely trusting the charts they had, Jason ordered the tow speed to be reduced to almost a crawl and placed a lookout on the bow to watch for rocks just below the surface of the water.

It was another week before they arrived at Copper River. The facilities were still under construction, they waited around for two weeks before the Copper Company was ready to offload the cargo.

Jason was fuming at the delay and was only slightly appeased that the customer was paying demurrage. After the cargo had been offloaded, they separated the tow, each tug taking four empty barges for return.

Willie would take the 'BELLE into Seattle to rebunker and pick up a load of cut lumber for delivery in San Francisco. Jason would run light back to San Francisco as they had no return cargo.

Jason dropped the empty barges off at the Factor's pier and headed for home, it had been a long and demanding trip, taking its toll on both men and machinery.

Carl told Jason he would need at least four days to return the 'ORRIN to a seaworthy condition. The toll on bearing and pivots was terrible and he was afraid they might part under a heavy load if not replaced.

Jason knew his crew also was in desperate need of recuperation, so he ordered the 'ORRIN to go cold iron for a week so everyone could catch their breath.

He tiredly walked up the wharf towards his cottage, Annabelle Crowley met him at the door, saying that she had some supper nearly ready for him. He sighed gratefully and washed up.

Annabelle had fixed a full meal of roast pork and vegetables. Jason was grateful, but so exhausted from the ordeal, he finished supper quickly and headed for his bed.

The next morning, he was awakened by delicious smells coming from the downstairs kitchen, his sister-in-law was fixing pancakes and sausages for breakfast. Jason dressed rapidly and came down the stairs to find Georgie seated at the table, waiting for him.

The two men made small talk over their meal and then Georgie dropped his bombshell – THE NEW TUGBOAT WAS READY FOR LAUNCHING! It then would be towed to the outfitting pier for the installation of the machinery and the engine.

The Navy had ordered a triple-expansion engine for one of their ships, but the ship then caught fire and they could not accept the engine. It was the correct size for their new tug, so Georgie was able to purchase it at cost, thus saving all shipping and delivery fees.

The two men rode the Calliope across the bay as passengers, to inspect their new vessel. Georgie had finally accepted that he needed a wheeled chair, Jason was happy to push him as they walked all around the huge tugboat as it sat in the building ways.

Jason was goggle-eyed, the tug was half again as big as the mighty 'ORRIN! The Shipbuilding Superintendent estimated that the outfitting would take about three months.

As the men watched from the top of the building ways, the shipyard crew flooded the drydock and the new tug floated free of the building blocks. When the superintendent asked what the name of the new tug would be, Georgie replied, "CAPTAIN JASON CROWLEY"! Poor Jason's face was beet red in embarrassment!

The Superintendent sniggered, "Him, huh?" All three men laughed.

As the two men turned, there stood a photographer and a reporter from the San Francisco Examiner Newspaper to do a story on this magnificent tugboat, already reported as the largest American Tug Boat!

After the reporter finished getting the information for his story, Jason and Georgie rejoined the Calliope for a leisurely trip back to the Crowley Wharf.

Georgie enjoyed watching the activity as Jason spoke with Arne and Carl about the repairs and upkeep the 'ORRIN needed. As the two men returned to Georgie's home, which also served as the headquarters for their business, Georgie asked, "Is Arnie ready to command the 'BELLE?"

Jason replied, "In all respects, he is a fine Tugboat Seaman, but he is going to need a new Mate as I am sure Willie wants to bring his Mate with him to the 'ORRIN." Georgie said, "Yes, but we have a few months to find a Mate for both of you."

They continued walking up to the house, where Georgie's Mother, Matilda had lunch waiting for them. After lunch, they went over the Company books and made plans for crewing the 'ORRIN, as Jason wanted his crew to transfer with him to the Jason Crowley.

Because of its size, the Jason was going to need additional Engine Room Crew and also more Deck crew. Jason was also going to need to upgrade his Master's License as the Jason exceeded 400 tons. He got that done while the 'ORRIN was undergoing upkeep and he sent Carl to upgrade his Chief Engineer's License, also.

As soon as Carl was completed with the Engine Room Maintenance, Jason ordered the crew to get up steam and the 'ORRIN headed to the Southern Pacific Marine Terminal for a load of six barges to be hauled to Los Angeles.

As they were getting up steam, the 'BELLE pulled into Crowley Wharf. Jason ran across the pier to greet his brother and fill him in on all the Company Business that had taken place.

The two brothers greeted each other with hugs and promised to get together as soon as Jason returned from Los Angeles.

The 'ORRIN sailed an hour later and headed for the coaling wharf before accepting the tow from Southern Pacific. The crew at Southern Pacific was very familiar with Jason's procedures. The barges were perfectly balanced. Arne could find no fault with the loads, so they proceeded to make up the tow and were headed out the Golden Gate before dark.

The trip to Los Angeles was uneventful, the 'ORRIN performed faultlessly and they passed the Los Angeles Light a day early. The massive 'ORRIN was a fast tow, it was setting the pace for the entire towing industry on the West Coast!

Jason topped off the bunkers and water tanks before taking up a tow of Railroad Engines and cars for Seattle, on five barges.

They departed the Los Angeles Light in mid-afternoon, headed north to Seattle. The weather was perfect until they were off the coast of Oregon, when a summer storm blew up, making them slow down.

Fog came in with the storm and they had to guess where the San Juan de Fuca Light was located. Fortunately, the fog lifted as they started to look for the light and they were headed upchannel before the fog closed back in.

They dropped the tow off at the Seattle Southern Pacific Marine Terminal and headed for their Factor's Pier for the night.

There was a telegram waiting for them from Georgie with a freight order to pick up six barges of canned fish for delivery to the Southern Pacific Marine Terminal in San Francisco.

Jason took Arne for supper at a diner near the pier, as he wanted to tell Arne of what was being planned. When he told the man that he was to command the 'BELLE, the poor man nearly dropped his supper! "Oh my God" Arne exclaimed, he continued, "Me, command the 'BELLE?"

Jason smiled and replied, "Arne, you are the finest Mate I have ever served with. We have all confidence in you. You are to go get your ticket upgraded to Master as soon as we get back."

Arne was nearly in tears, "Captain Jason, you have not only been the finest Captain I have ever served, but you also are my best friend. Thank you for your trust in me."

They picked up their tow the next morning, after topping off the bunkers and water tanks. Carl blew down the boiler before they sailed on an uneventful voyage back to San Francisco.

They dropped off their tow at the Southern Pacific Marine Terminal and headed for home, Crowley Wharf in Richmond.

When they arrived, the 'BELLE was moored across the pier from them. As soon as Jason ordered cold iron, he walked across the pier to greet his brother. The two Captains hugged each other and walked, arm in arm up the pier to their cottage, where a warm bath and a home cooked meal awaited them.

Arne and Carl were gathering up all their documents needed to upgrade their licenses.

The next day, Georgie, Jason and Willie went across the bay to inspect the progress on the new tug. As they stood there, a crane was dropping the engine into the engine room through an opening in the deck.

Jason looked at the engine, it was as big as the entire tug Calliope! The Superintendent spotted them and came over to answer any questions they might have. He told them that construction was ahead of schedule and that the tug would be ready in another 45 days. Jason asked if his Chief Engineer could come over and look around the tug, the man told him that would be fine.

Jason turned to Georgie and said, "I think it would be better if we ship Paul as a full time cook and hire another oiler. He is a better cook than oiler and there are so many more people to feed on this new tug!"

Both Georgie and Willie concurred, Jason knew that Paul would be delighted. They invited Georgie to dine with them when they got back and Georgie gratefully accepted as Matilda, his mother, was in Berkeley, visiting her sister.

Willie had a tow the next morning, but, as it turned out, he was unable to sail, so Jason readied the 'ORRIN to take his place.

When Willie had awakened in the morning, he found Annabelle violently ill. So ill, he became concerned and took her to the doctor. The doctor quickly determined that Jason was going to be an Uncle in 8 months, but by that time, the 'ORRIN had picked up the load of freight and was headed to Seattle.

When he checked in at their Factor's Office, there were two telegrams waiting for him. One from Georgie addressed to Uncle Jason and the other from Willie addressed to God Father Jason! Jason was laughing so hard he had to sit down to catch his breath. There was a load of cut lumber to haul from Seattle to San Francisco, it was only three barges, so the 'ORRIN made a fast trip home.


Previous ChapterNext Chapter