I feel like a toddler captain right now – not because I’ve exhibited any particular genius, but because I have so much to learn.
It starts with how to handle the boat. A platform operator asked me the other day, before we began pumping water, whether we planned to catch a line or if I was “just gonna crewboat it.”
“Crewboating,” then, is the art and science of getting a 300-ton, 145-foot-long vessel to move sideways, forwards and backwards, or maybe just moving the stern a few feet one direction or the other.
Most boats with two or more screws will “walk,” or move sideways, to some degree. Large workboats, with as many as five engines and both left-hand and right-hand propellers, do it pretty easily. Lots of horsepower helps.
Wind, seas and current all play a role in how we make our approach and set-up the boat to transfer any kind of cargo. Boats can be moved and held by brute force, or gently coaxed in cooperation with the elements. The latter approach is more elegant, and easier on machinery.
However a captain sets-up his boat, he probably already has a bail-out plan – whether it’s to walk the boat off the platform, pivot away or pull away in forward. In contests between aluminum hulls and steel platform legs, the steel usually wins, so we try to avoid actual contact.
I spent the first two days on this boat just trying to figure out what stuff was called – which of the items on our deck were totes, which were baskets, which were crane boxes and which were grocery boxes. Then I had to learn the difference between a strap and a sling, a two-part and a four-part.
We have a crackerjack engineer aboard who is pretty good at explaining stuff; I’m trying to soak up as much of his knowledge about our Caterpillar 3412 engines as I can.
While all this is going on, I’m learning our field – which numbers go with which platforms, which platforms have decent crane operators and which ones I have to be extra careful with. And then there’s the Atchafalaya River – not the easiest harbor approach in the world, especially in the dark.
Did I mention the paperwork? We have four separate logbooks to update each day, voyage plans, safety meetings, job safety analyses and watch turnover notes. Oh, and every week we turn in a requisition form for supplies.
All the while, I’m familiarizing myself with company policies and trying to get to know the guys I work and live with two-thirds of the year.
There’s a new challenge every day and I haven’t been bored yet.