High Seas: Ocean Tow Boats

Book Two

The Terry JPG

Chapter 1 - TOKYO BOUND

Carson maneuvered The TERRY across the bay and passed through the Carquinez Straits before heading upriver to Stockton, where there were six loaded barges of rice waiting for him.

Stockton was a small harbor on the San Joaquin River and there was not enough room in the harbor for him to maneuver The TERRY to make up the tow, so a small harbor tug was called to assist.

By the time the tow was made up it had gotten dark and Carson was unfamiliar with the San Joaquin River so he elected to remain in port until the following morning. Only a couple of his crew went ashore and they came back early, reporting that the town was about as "lively as a graveyard".

Meanwhile, Peter had picked up his tow at the Railroad Terminal and headed out through the Golden Gate, on his way to Sydney, Australia. It was going to be a long pull and, once he was across Banana Reef, he set the main engine at 90 turns on the shaft and settled down for "the long haul". The THOMAS was performing well and Peter quickly became accustomed to a civilian crew.

His first meal told him that his friend, Carson, was going to feed his crews better than what Navy Sailors got!

He checked the entire ship after lunch, as much to meet all the crew as to become familiar with the ship itself. He spoke a few minutes with the Chief Engineer, Prentiss O'Brian, before returning to the bridge for a while. It was going to take some getting used to a civilian crew, without all the pomp and ceremony that took place in the Navy.

Everything was running smoothly and after lunch, he checked in with the Marconi Operator before going to his cabin and start his voyage journal. He was not as busy as he had been while commanding a Naval Vessel, but he found sufficient business to keep him occupied and he enjoyed the face to face contact with his crew that he never had in the Navy. Both he and Carson had agreed to send a daily position report to Charlie at noon, local time, so he got the report ready and gave it to the Marconi Operator to send.

It took him a couple of days to settle in and become accustomed to the different pace. Each day had its own little quirks, but the ship was in "like new" condition and they went the entire distance to Sydney without a single mechanical problem with the ship. In fact, the only problem he had was to ask the cook NOT to fix coconut crème pie for dessert as he hated even the smell of the nasty stuff!

Carson got the TERRY away from Stockton the next morning and they sailed down river with only a little juggling of the barges. The river current was trying to push the barges and the tow lines would go slack. The problem went away as they left the river behind and entered San Francisco Bay.

Carson planned on taking the Great Circle Route to Tokyo, the weather was still good in the North Pacific and he expected no problems. Once they had left the Bay behind them, he opened up The TERRY and had the throttle set at 90 RPM. Carson had learned that 90 RPM was about the best speed for these huge Nordberg engines. It would be a steady trip across the Pacific, the barges were towing evenly and the Terry was running smooth. He sent out his first noon position report back to Charlie and settled into a nice, calm civilian pace. He liked the fact that there was no Navy Commodore second guessing him and he resolved that he, as owner, was not going to do that to his own Captains.

After a few hours he didn't even notice the rhythmic thumping of the huge Nordberg TSM-216 engine, he stood on the bridge wing with the binoculars and checked the barges, they were tracking smoothly and all the chaffing strips were in place, protecting the tow wires. The word, wire, was a misnomer, the tow wires were huge braided steel cables, bigger around than a man's leg. They were so heavy, it required a winch to move them around. If one needed to be picked up, there was a crane on the fantail.

He had Boats check all the navigating lights and, since they were all dual bulb lights, he figured they would be good until Tokyo, at least, but it wouldn't hurt to check them anyway, as a mischance at sea could easily be deadly!

Nine days later found them off Umnak Island in the Aleutian Chain, he had just sent in his noon position report and had sat down to lunch when he heard the MAYDAY alarm go off on the bridge.

He raced up the ladder to the bridge, Second Mate Joe Trasker had the watch and he was busy plotting the signal angle. He ordered the helmsman to come around to 030 degrees and ring up AHEAD EMERGENCY. The Marconi operator had piped the radio on to the bridge speakers and they could hear him in contact with the Mayday Coordinator in Honolulu. They were the only ship in the area and were ordered to continue, even though they were hampered with a tow.

The main engine was protesting, black smoke was billowing out the stack until the engine came up to temperature and Carson told the Mate to call out the crew. The TERRY was working hard to answer the call put on her. After about 45 minutes, they spotted a small fishing trawler on the horizon, smoke was billowing up from the engine room compartment of the small vessel. Fire at sea is every sailor's nightmare, on a wooden ship, all the more so!

Chapter 2 - THE RESCUE

As The TERRY came alongside the stricken fisher, an explosion threw flames and smoke out of the engine room and the small craft visibly began to sink. The First Mate, John Rogers, had the MWB (Motor Whale Boat) swung out and ready to lower into the water. Joe ordered a hard rudder to the left to let the barges swing away from the trawler and then a BACK FULL on the engine to stop the ship.

As soon as The TERRY was completely stopped, the six man crew of the MWB jumped into the small boat and the Bos'un began to lower the davit to the rail. The First Mate signaled to lower them away and, as soon as the boat hit the water, the engineer started the boat's engine while the sailors unhooked the cables.

They were busy picking up the 12 man crew of the trawler and the Master told John that all his men were accounted for. Wet and cold to be sure, but alive! The Fishing Boat Master said, "Sar, we was gonners fer sure, 'til you come by. We was ever so glad to see a red stack as your'n, Bless ya!"

The Second Mate was relaying to the Marconi Operator, who was reporting to the Coordinator. Just as the MWB reached The TERRY, the fishing trawler blew up and sank immediately.

The Trawler Captain told them they were out of Nilkoski on Umnak Island and that was the closest habitation. Carson agreed to take them to their home, there really was no other habitation in that part of the island chain. It was a difficult turn around Breadloaf Island to get them to Umnak and the small harbor could not accommodate The TERRY and her tow. They were going to have to transfer the rescued seamen to the MWB, unless they could send out a small boat.

The village sent out a small boat to collect their people and Carson made sure he got a release from the Village Constable, releasing The TERRY from further responsibility for the fishermen. They reported back to the Mayday Coordinator and he released them to return to their intended course.

Carson navigated The TERRY out of the rocky inlet and back around the island to the open sea, before turning the bridge back to the Second Mate. They had to readjust the chaffing strips on the tow wires before they could continue because of all the turning and squirming had shifted the points of contact. They had to run out the crane cable to relieve the tension of the tow wire before they could adjust the chaffing strips. It was past dark before they were on their way again.

It took Carson several hours to finish the report of the incident that had to be filed with the Coordinator and, as soon as he gave to the Marconi Operator to transmit, he headed to his stateroom. The Marconi Operator would have a sore hand, the report had to be keyed and it contained eight pages!

Carson was cold and wet and was more than ready for a hot shower! He checked the bridge one more time and decided to call it a day. He was tired, the excitement of the rescue had drained him and he was experiencing the backlash. The United States was a signatory to the INTERNATIONAL TREATY FOR SAFETY OF LIFE AT SEA, and they were required to respond to emergencies like this. The only two countries that refused to sign the Treaty was North Korea and later, Cuba.

Several days later they received a radio message from Charlie that they were to deliver the barges of rice to Yokohama International Port Terminal in Kanagawa. Carson got out the charts and found the terminal, there were a lot of Red X's on the chart indicating wrecked ships from the recent war, he sure hoped the Harbor Pilot was capable. He didn't relish trying to unsnarl snagged tow wires or ship parts from wrecks wound around his screw!

They finally reached the outer harbor and were met by the Pilot Boat. A tiny little man climbed aboard The TERRY and introduced himself in perfect, if slightly accented English, as Pilot Timbu and he would be pleased to guide The TERRY and her tow to the proper terminal basin.

Carson was greatly relieved, the last time he had been in Tokyo was immediately after the Cessation of Hostilities and he remembered the harbor as a nightmare of wrecked shipping and burned out piers. His tanker had scraped bottom several times before she had come to anchor in mid-harbor. That was the closest they could come without damaging the tanker!

As soon as the pilot brought them alongside the pier, two small tugs came out and disconnected the barges from the tow wire and took them off to another place, presumably to off-load. Their Factor came on board, an Englishman, Terrence Cotter, and Carson got all his documentation signed off for transportation payment, harbor fees and arrangement for fuel and water.

Mr. Cotter asked if they needed food stores and Carson told him that they were OK. He had past experience with fresh stores from Japan and he didn't want his crew down with dysentery. They had calcium chlorate to treat the water tanks, but fresh food was another story. A crew down with the dysentery would be a nightmare that he didn't need!

He was told that his return barges were tied up at the US Army Terminal at Shinkiba. After finding Shinkiba on his charts, he decided to call the Harbor Master and ask for a pilot, he specifically asked for Pilot Timbu and the next morning the same little man climbed aboard from the Pilot Launch. He was very friendly and thanked Carson profusely for asking for him to pilot The TERRY. The little man was a professional, he maneuvered the Terry with the precision of someone who had done that many times.

They got underway and it took them several hours to thread their way through the busy harbor to Shinkiba. Carson took the First Mate and they went to inspect the barges, they all seemed to be loaded level and well tied down. Most of the cargo was in huge crates and it was all designated to be delivered to the Oakland Army Terminal in California. There were some trucks in the load, but they, also, were well tied.

The tonnage was very high, several of the barges were loaded to their load limits. It was going to be a struggle crossing the Pacific in the winter. Carson decided to take a slightly more southern route home. It was a little further, but he hoped the better weather would make up for the longer course. He had already plotted his course well south of the Great Circle route. He was quite happy when they received a change order from Charlie, routing them through Honolulu to pick up a single barge of military dependents' household goods for delivery to the Oakland Army Terminal.

The government was willing to pay a premium to divert The TERRY, so it was well worth the course change! It took them all day to make up the tow and Carson was not willing to risk The TERRY on a night crossing of Tokyo Harbor, dodging wrecked ships and burned out hulks. The Pilot had threaded them through a jungle of wrecks they could see just below the surface of the water in broad daylight!

Mr. Timbu said he would return the first thing in the morning and they would sail directly from the anchorage. There was no shore leave for the crew, unless they were willing to swim as they were anchored off shore in the middle of the harbor. The cooks made up for it, however, they served up Italian food and everyone stuffed themselves on pizza, cacciatorre, spaghetti and meatballs with their signature dessert, lemon pie. There were no complaints!

The next morning, Mr. Timbu, the harbor pilot, showed up bright and early and they made ready to get underway. Carson was mightily glad he had decided to wait until daylight to sail, the pilot guided them around wrecked ships and underwater obstacles, some marked and most were not. There were ship parts barely showing above the bay's surface and only God knew what awaited them only slightly deeper in the water. He thanked his lucky stars that Mr. Timbu was their pilot, he obviously knew what he was about and he made sure the helmsman heard his orders and understood them. It would have been a nightmare in the dark!

The pilot left the ship on the pilot launch as they left the harbor. It would be a long haul into Honolulu. They were anxious to get going, they had a long, hard trip ahead of them. They realized that they were building a reputation as a reliable transportation source with both the Army and the Navy and they intended to keep and build the reputation!

Chapter 3 - SYDNEY

Peter and The THOMAS arrived at Hornby Light at daybreak and they had to wait on the pilot to take them into Sydney Harbor. Unlike their sister ship's experience up in Tokyo, there were no wrecks or other snags to trap The THOMAS. Their barges were to be delivered to Johnston's Bay in Sydney Harbor and it took their pilot all morning to maneuver them through the busy harbor to their designated delivery point.

The small harbor tugs made quick work of relieving The THOMAS of her barges and, after a swing by the fueling pier, he had the pilot take them over to Darling Island, where six barges loaded with construction materials were waiting for The THOMAS to tow them to Tanjong Pagar Terminal in Singapore.

The barges fought them, despite the fact that he had checked the loads for level and, as they began making up the tow, it took the rest of the day to complete the tow before they sailed out of Sydney Harbor just as it was getting dark.

Peter charted a course well offshore from Australia before turning. He planned to pass just south of New Guinea, past Saibia Island. The waters were treacherous in that area and would be safe to pass only in broad daylight. There were reefs and rocks barely under the surface of the water, only a fool would make the transit in the dark. Peter was NOT a fool!

It would take them two days to get there and that would give a full ten hours of good daylight to get through the narrow channel that led to the Timor Sea. He could then slip through Sundra Strait and on to Singapore. That would cut off nearly a week's sailing.

In his first noon position report, he indicated that his intention was to take the short cut. He figured Charlie would likely let Carson know and, should the "Boss" have a problem, he would hear about it soon enough to change his course.

They passed into the Timor Sea without a problem and he had not heard anything from either Charlie or Carson about his planned course. They chugged up the coast of Java, dodging small fishing junks. They all appeared to be towing nets and he sure as hell didn't want a fishing net wound up in the screw! That would likely be a dry dock event to clear the screw, provided they didn't twist the shaft off! He shuddered, just thinking about that!

Towards the north end of Java, Peter had the course changed to take them closer to the island, he was looking for the Tanjung Layar Light that would let him know they were approaching Panaitan Island that marked the entrance to the Sundra Strait.

The charts noted that the light was very low on a point of land and was difficult to spot. The midwatch called down to Peter's stateroom to let him know the First Mate had spotted the light and Peter ordered the tow slowed so that they would hit the entrance to the narrow strait at daylight.

Peter got up to the bridge just as the sun was breaking the horizon, he ordered the course changed to round the island and he boosted the gain on the navigating radar until he could reach out and get a return from Sangiang Island, dead in the middle of Sunda Strait.

He knew from his wartime experience that he had to pass to the north of the island as there were rocky reefs on the south side. Even at that, he slowed to a crawl as they passed the island, they could see wartime wrecks just by looking over the side of the tug!

By the end of the day, they had safely passed Sangiang Island, Peter had not left the bridge the entire time of the passage. He gave the Second Mate the course that would take them across the Java Sea so they could pass through Karimata Strait and head directly for Singapore.

He then headed below for a late lunch and then a shower. He was sure he smelled like a billy goat, the passage had been very stressful and his shirt was wringing wet in the tropical heat. Even his hands hurt, where he had been clenching the bridge railing!

It was not until almost dark of the next day when the First Mate spotted the Palu Saratu light, the radar had it as a smudge on the screen. That was their signal to change course to the northeast and head directly for Singapore.

It would be at least two and one-half days to get to Singapore. They already knew they were going to be delayed in Singapore, there was a labor dispute going on between two rival labor groups.

As they were entering Singapore Harbor, the Marconi Operator brought down a message from Charlie to Peter that he had arranged a cargo for them that would take them to Manila.

Peter smiled, the terminal that had their ongoing cargo was not involved in the labor troubles. Maybe they could scoot out of town before anyone knew they were there!

Chapter 4 - JUNK RUN

Meanwhile, Carson fumed and fidgeted for two days in Honolulu, while the Army Transportation Officer rounded up all the household goods that were supposed to be shipped back home. It didn't even register on the man that they were paying delay time for The TERRY to sit in the harbor waiting on him. Carson considered the man an idiot anyway, and the man's stupid decisions only reinforced Carson's opinion.

At last, the truck convoy that was carrying the surplus materials arrived at the Navy Foxtrot Piers and cranes began to load the waiting barge. Carson and his First Mate John Gordon, checked each corner of the barge for weight distribution before they would accept it.

Several times the weight on the barge had to be redistributed before the two would sign off on it. A blustering Bull Colonel came down, trying to order them to accept the barge "as is".

Carson just returned to the wheelhouse of The TERRY and started shouting to the crew to cast off the lines. When they got down to the last bow line, the Colonel got in his car and drove off.

A young Army First Lieutenant was laughing, he said, "Captain Bates, you sure made an enemy there, but ya' know, I'm gonna make sure that story gets spread all around. He ain't gonna live this one down any time soon!"

The loading proceeded without the Colonel and they were ready to sail the next day. The pilot took them as far as the staging area where they had anchored the barges they had towed from Tokyo.

About halfway home, they ran into a winter storm, with seven barges behind them the TERRY was getting whipsawed, right and left. Several of the crew had already been hurt when Carson decided to change course to try and get them out of the storm. The extra time was nothing compared to one of his crew getting hurt!

They headed south for a full day before the storm began to quiet. When they finally reached calmer waters, Carson ordered the course be returned to east, they were within radar range of the California coast before the seas had calmed and they could again head up the coast for home.

He was anxious to get home, he missed his son and the strain of the trip had been nearly as bad as commanding a Navy oiler during wartime, carrying a load of av-gas!

They pulled through the Golden Gate and into the smooth waters of San Francisco Bay. There was a short hassle at the Army Terminal, the documentation of the barge loaded with household goods had not been correctly filled out and they had to make some telephone calls to Honolulu to clear it up.

When they finally cleared the Army Terminal, they headed for the "barn". Charlie had negotiated a long term lease for a pier in Oakland that had berths for four tugs the size of The TERRY. Charlie had a pretty good idea where Carson would be when he read the "NOTICE OF SALE" in the pile of mail that was waiting for him.

When they pulled up to the pier, there was a huge white sign on the building, "BATES OCEAN TOWING". Carson thought it looked kinda nice and he could see that it was lit up at night. Charlie was waiting on the pier and he gave Carson a quick hug as he came down the gangway. He said to Carson, "Do what ya' gotta do, there is a certain red-headed lad that is driving his Grandma nutso asking when his Daddy is gonna get there!"

Carson laughed and held up a big box that had "TERRY" written on the side of it in red crayon. Charlie asked, "Is it heavy?" Carson replied, "Naw, one of my sailors made it for that little red-headed boy who was on the pier when we left!"
Charlie peeked into the box and exclaimed, "WOW, Would he make me one?"

They got into Charlie's car and headed for home. Carson had hardly stepped out of the car when a little red-headed rocket launched himself off the top of the stairs and latched on Carson's neck like a hangman's noose. He had a death grip on his Daddy and was not about to let go any time soon!

Carson's parents came out on the porch and they asked Charlie to stay for supper, he wasn't about to pass up any meal that Helen Bates had cooked.

Terry asked his Daddy, "Didja bring me something'?" Carson said, "I sure did, let's go out to Uncle Charlie's car and get it."

Carson thought he was going to have to refight World War II all over again to get Terry back to the dinner table! The model was as long as the little boy was tall and he was running it all over the living room making ship sounds like the mate had blown the ship's horn of the real TERRY for him when his Papa had left to go to sea! As they sat down to supper, Carson noticed Charlie looking at him with a strange look on his face. Carson thought to himself, "Oh, Oh, do I have some trouble here?"


Peter brought The THOMAS into Manila Bay after a hard run from Tokyo. The weather had been bad the whole trip and everyone had bruises and sore shoulders from being tossed around, nobody had gotten much sleep and those who had been able to spend some time in their bunks were worn out from having to brace themselves to keep from being thrown to the deck.

It was a relief to reach the sheltered water of Manila Harbor. The Harbor Master sent them over to the holding basin at Pier Eight in North Harbor, saying that there were six loaded barges waiting for them there.

When they got there, there was just enough room for them to make up the tow themselves without need of a harbor tug to nudge the barges around. All the barges were heavily loaded and sat low in the water. None were overloaded, but it was a close thing. They spent the rest of the day lining up the barges and then getting the tow wire onto the lead barge.

All six barges were loaded with bundled tropical hardwood lumber and were marked as furniture grade. They had all been double tarped and the paperwork run out from the shipper's office had an inspection report from the USDA that all the lumber was fungus and vermin free. Peter could see a few boards sticking out and thought to himself that his Mother would love a coffee table made from that wood.

The import documentation was in order and, as it was getting dark, Peter radioed the Harbor Master for clearance to exit the port. It was a heavy load and he conned The THOMAS out of port himself, taking up the strain on the wire as gently as he could. He charted a course north to pass through the Babuyan Channel and head out through the Philippine Sea.

It was going to be a long voyage home. Tropical hardwoods were so dense that sometimes they did not even float in water. It was a high value cargo and the shipper was paying a premium for on-time delivery.

The original invoice had called for delivery to San Francisco, but a change order had come through for delivery to Long Beach with a shipper's penalty to cover the cost of returning the THOMAS to San Francisco. A backing charge was customary in cases like this where there was little likelihood they would have a forward pull.

Once into the open waters of the Philippine Sea, Peter ordered the Engine Room to increase the turns on the screw to 80 turns, rather than their customary 90 turns, in order to reduce the strain on the tow wire. They settled into a familiar routine, the main engine thumping along at a comfortable pace and no reported storms anywhere along their route until they got near the Hawaiian Islands, where they were experiencing high winds.

Peter expected to pass well north of the storm, but he continued to monitor the weather advisories. At the somewhat slower speed they were making, he projected a twenty-day passage, they had plenty of fuel and water. He expected no problems.

They were north of the usual shipping lane, so they encountered only a few other ships and those stayed well clear of the tow. Peter was well pleased with the performance of his ship and was going to recommend to Carson that they retain the entire crew. Everyone had performed well and he had not encountered any personality conflicts among the crew members.

The tow was going well until they crossed just north of Midway Island. There, they picked up the blast of winds that sent the barges in six different directions. No matter what speed Peter ran the THOMAS, he could not straighten out the tow. It looked like a fleet of housecats behind them and he worried about losing a wire.

He finally slowed the tow to 30 turns and that eased the strain on the wire, but the barges still were trying to scatter. Peter stayed on the bridge the entire night, watching their tow. Fortunately, by daylight the winds began to drop and all their barges were still behind them. As far as he could see in the glasses, the cargo tarps were still tight and nothing had shifted.

As the day progressed, the winds continued to diminish and Peter told the Third Mate to ease the speed up as the winds continued to drop. He went to bed, he had been on the bridge for eighteen hours and he was exhausted.

When he awoke it was near supper time and, after a quick shower, he passed through the bridge to check on his ship. The First Mate was on duty and they talked for a while, the engine had been increased to eighty-five turns and the Mate was just about to bring it up to ninety.

Everything held good, so Peter went below for his supper, he had missed lunch and was ready for almost anything to fill the void in his gut!

Six days later, they were on their final leg into Long Beach Harbor. The Harbor Master directed them to the breakwater just outside the commercial piers, where a harbor tug met them to receive the barges.

Before he was allowed to take in his tow wire, Peter had to meet with Customs and Department of Agriculture officials. All his paperwork was in order and the inspectors could find nothing wrong to refuse entry of the cargo.

After haggling all afternoon with the bug and vermin inspectors, he was finally given permission to drop the load. It had been an exhausting crossing and he was having a hard time not lashing out at pettifogging officials! He had little use for pencil pushers anyway and, when they were building their little kingdoms at his expense, they were lucky their heads were still attached to their necks when he left!

The harbor tugs took the barges away and Peter started The THOMAS on her way up the coast and home. Little did he realize the problems that were going to meet him on his relatively short and simple voyage up the California coast to San Francisco Bay. It was going to be an interesting trip, to say the least!


The shipping business is going great guns, but, already the rumors of conflict on the Korean Peninsula are making their rounds.