16 July 2012

A different day

Yesterday we received a different kind of vessel in Funchal. The so-called routine calls (disembarking crew members, bunkering, supplies, etc) are not the most common in our port. However when they do happen we are, some of those times, faced with curious professional situations. But those are the interesting days in our professional career. The ones when we can do something different.
This was yesterday's case.
The deepsea tug Multratug 17, coming from Rotterdam and heading to Soio, Angola, approached the Funchal bay with bunkering intentions. However, she was towing two large barges (each one towed by its own towing line) that she would have to leave at a safe distance from the coast before entering the port for the bunkering procedures. It was decided that two port tugs would connect to both barges, hence freeing the  Multratug 17 for her port operations. Secured by our tugs and therefore avoided the risk of drifting ashore and grounding, the barges would wait outside until the Multratug 17 left the harbour and proceeded to the area where we would handover the towage train back to her. Easier said than done.
The job that took place on that day, from early morning until mid afternoon, was a choreography of precise operations and team work. And it went so smoothly that it could even be mistakenly interpreted as too easy. But it was not. Not easily at all. It was only the professionalism of those involved that made it look like that.
For me, since I've made my professional seaman's life in container-carriers and general cargo vessels, it was a priceless day's lesson on the towage business.
Up to this day I'm amazed of the diversity that we can find in the maritime career. Although we have the same origin (nautical sciences), we end up facing almost endless professional possibilities upon finishing college. We might choose to work on container-carriers, on general cargo ships, on tankers, on reefer freighters, on cruise ships, on chemicals, on supply-vessels... you name it.
A former Captain of mine used to say that all oceans are alike. Meaning that, nautically speaking, if we can sail in one we can sail everywhere. And if we just think about the rules of the road that is true. However, navigating a ship is not only plotting courses and knowing the difference between Port and Starboard. The commercial exploration of a merchant ship is the core business of the industry. And here is where the specialization takes place. And that particular knowledge takes years of practice to master. You can be a container carrier Officer or Master all of your life and a damn good one and still be learning new things every day.
And, at the same time, you have absolutely no idea of how to load or discharge a tanker or a heavy-lifter. That is the specialization of our professional life. And the beauty of it. It's our personal choice. Either voluntary or (like me) by accident. After college that was doomed to be the actual beginning. And it will take a lifetime to achieve.
The Multratug 17 alongside the Pontinha breakwater, yesterday, for bunkering operations.
Pictures taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Ship's name: Multratug 17
IMO number: 9481752
Type: ASD Deepsea tug
LOA: 35.70 mts
Beam: 11.50 mts
Max draft on manoeuvre: 5.00 mts
Propulsion:  Two azipods, total power 3858 KW, bollard pull (traction): 70 tons
Pitch: N/A
Rudder: N/A

As soon as the bunkering operations were completed we left the port and proceeded to the position of the barges so that the tow lines could be handed to the visiting tug. Towage train once again secure and the Multratug 17, together with her two barges, sailed to a long twenty eight days voyage to Angola.
The command bridge of a tugboat is one of the most ergonomically perfect in the marine industry. The visibility is notable, most of the times with plain 360º, and the central console has most of the operating commands doubled, meaning that you can operate the vessel with total control either moving astern or going ahead.
In the picture, the Captain approaches the barge, stern first, to receive the towing line from the tug Boqueirão. His Chief Engineer, at his right, controls the towing winch.