Followed by moments of sheer terror. Such is towing as described to me sometime in the past year or three – I can’t place when or where I heard it or who said it, but I know I’ve heard it more than once and it’s a pretty accurate assessment.
When I was letting out wire off Cape Hatteras a few days ago before we made to turn toward Puerto Rico, the weather conditions were less than ideal. We had a following sea and wind with waves pushing fifteen feet in height, and it’s needless to say I haven’t dumped wire in the open sea in anything more than mild weather. It came close to going wrong very fast. For some reason as it paid out, the starboard wire was outrunning the fairlead which was starting to take a substantial strain. I asked my deck hand to adjust it, but I was too preoccupied with keeping track of how much wire I still had on both drums to watch what he was doing. Since it’s hard to tell what’s going on when it’s all the way over, he inadvertently adjusted in the wrong direction and when I let out more wire, the fairlead went in the opposite direction! I looked down and the wire was being bent against the roller at a seventy degree angle, threatening to kink and damage if not break the wire.
I pointed and shouted over the noise of the stacks, shocked by the sudden incongruence of the situation, as the deck hand ran back down to fix it and the chief mate stepped in to take the winch controls; due to the varying pressure being put on the tow wires by the stern bucking in the seas they were either coming dangerously tight or paying out with so much slack that they threatened to unspool right on the drum. Every time the brake came tight, the starboard wire lay on the drum at a crazy angle that looked totally unnatural and knotted my stomach to see. I stood by and watched closely, barely breathing. We had only 3 layers to let out and once we had all we wanted, we evened up the two wires and it was done. Funny how a job that would seem so simple should need two ABs and two mates on deck. If it had been just me, I could never have managed. I don’t know if I’ll continue in ocean towing over the years but if I do go back to towing on just one wire, it will be drastically easier than this.
*However* – leaving Philadelphia and arriving in San Juan, with myself at the tow winch controls, went about as smoothly as it could have gone. I’m very happy about that. I’m being made to run the deck and the winch, and I have a list of such tasks that need to be signed off by my captains so I can go from training mate to second mate and make MORE MONEY. Cheers to that! As a T/M here I’ve been making less than I was as a deck hand at my last job.