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Take all the photos you like, but if you just sit on a dock by the bay watching the ships roll in and out, you’ll only know so much and nothing more.  If you suspected I was hinting at something in yesterday’s post, it was this review.

If you want to know more about working on a tugboat, you can get a job on a tugboat.  Of course, you’d have to survive the gauntlet of training, interview, application, physical, drug tests, etc.

Or you can pick up Tom Teague’s book, where among many other things he explains how he got hired for his first full-time tugboat job:  he got a telephone call from a tugboat captain the day before he was scheduled to meet with the US Navy recruiter.  The captain asked if he could start right away.  That night.  He did.  It was 1974.  The author was 20, and as he lets the reader know several times, he had good hair.

Teague describes how the towing business has changed in some significant ways since 1974.  Think about the photo below; “just having a beer” on a towing vessel today would trigger immediate firing.

Yet the same perils lurk whenever you work with powerful machines on the water in all kinds of weather.  A chapter entitled “Danger” illustrates the unforgiving environment of a workboat.  This chapter, framed by incidents involving unfortunate fellow crew and friends, makes the point that even knowledgeable, professional mariners might pay heavily for failing even for a second to pay attention.

By the way, if you’re a regular reader of tugster, do you recognize the tugboat on the cover?

You may have heard the aphorism “moments of terror interspersed by hours, days, etc. of boredom” in relation to a variety of fields.  It certainly applies to working on tugboats.  Boredom and dealing with it gets a whole chapter.  And Teague gets hilarious about creative attempts to alleviate boredom, without doing harm or damage.  Well, some coffee gets spilled, er… sacrificed.

Capt. Teague navigates story telling quite well, alternating, as he must have to aboard his boat, between abundant, straightforward explanation for a non-mariner reading the book and straying into the tales you’d expect of a mariner with many nautical miles under his keel.   He’s enlightening when recounting ordeals with weather and clarifying towing jargon.  Salty humor and fascinating characters abound when he catalogs nicknames–and their derivations–of fellow mariners he’s met over the decades.

Doing paperwork, I’m told, makes every captain’s eyes cross, but when Tom writes, not at all cryptically “Stay tuned for the next installment.  I’m still typing,” I suspect he’s going above and beyond the usual wheelhouse reports and confirmations.  There’s another book just over the horizon, and I for one am eagerly awaiting it.

Thomas Teague is still working in the wheelhouse as a tugboat captain after having started as a hawsepiper back in the 1970s.  With Tales from a Tugboat Captain, he seems to have gotten the call and jumped aboard writing about work with the likes of Studs Terkel and John McPhee.  There’s a whole genre here–Harberger’s Seized comes to mind as does Moynihan’s Voyage of the Rose City— waiting to be picked up and read on a cold winter’s day, or taken to the beach or on a cruise when the sun is hot.  And finally, I’m hoping that other mariners, upon completing their on-vessel reports, contribute to this genre.

Click here to order your copy of the book.  For additional photos and videos obviously not in the book, check out Captain Tom Teague on FB.  I’m told a book signing is planned for spring in Brooklyn and will post details about that when available.

See previous tugster reviews here.

Tangentially related, twelve years ago I posted this, which ends with a quote from Franz Kafka revealing how he imagined paperwork on boats.

And the boat on the cover, you may know it today as the “red” Cornell.

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