Of tug boats, birds, and quahoggers

On my afternoon walk yesterday, I was heading along Route 6 towards Fairhaven when I faintly heard someone yelling at me over the traffic: “Hey, Dan!” I looked down, and there was Carol near the future site of the Fish Island Yacht Club, standing and talking with the Tugboat Captain.

I slipped down past a fence or two, and Carol introduced me to the Tugboat Captain. Here’s the back story:

The Tugboat Captain is from Barbados originally, and he and his Haitian business partner came up to New Bedford to buy a tugboat and a barge to use down in the West Indies, for such things as hauling fill from Haiti to some of the smaller islands. Carol met the Tugboat Captain when she was looking in to renting office and storage space on Fish Island: an office for her writing, and storage for the composting toilets she imports from Sweden.

Tugboat Captain’s business partner has run into difficulties moving money from Haiti to the United States, and so Tugboat Captain has been stuck here for two months (so far), keeping an eye on the tugboat they bought. Carol got friendly with him, and as the weather got cold, we found him a hat and some other warmer clothing. Carol also got Tugboat Captain some work weeding at an organic farm in South Dartmouth, which gets him a little cash and (more to the point) a chance to get away from the tug for awhile, and which also gets some much needed help for Carol’s friend the organic farmer.

Thus ends the back story.

So there we were standing there, chatting about this and that, when the Ornithologist’s small orange boat appeared in the distance, coming up the harbor. The Tugboat Captain turned to watch them critically as they came in. “You see their radar,” he said, in his soft Barbados accent, “You know how radar goes around like this…” — he demonstrates, and we nod — “Well, his can go like this…” — he showed us the axis of rotation tilting until it’s parallel to the ground — “so that he can point it straight up, and track birds.”

“Where is he working?” I asked.

“Out the harbor, to the port,” Tugboat Captain said, still watching the boat come in, “about ten miles.” In other words, out in the middle of Buzzard’s Bay.

Carol and Tugboat Captain discussed who was piloting the boat today, and at last they figured out which one of the two men it was who work with the Ornithologist (it was the one they don’t know as well). The Tugboat Captain continued watching as the small orange boat slipped in beside the tugboat, the Ornithologist standing at the bow with a rope ready to tie up. “You see,” he said, turning to us to explain, “most people would bring the bow in first, tie up, and then swing the stern over. But not him. He likes to bring the stern in first, and then swing the bow over.”

The two men from the small orange boat tied up, walked across the tug and onto the little wharf, and came up to say hello. The Tugboat Captain introduced us all around. It turns out the Ornithologist, who lives in Maine, makes his living by working for engineering firms, researching whether wind power installations will damage bird life. He left academia, he said, because he didn’t care for teaching. Carol got into a long discussion with him about the relative merits of various offshore wind power projects.

I turned to the other conversation, between the Tugboat Captain and the pilot of the small orange boat. The swing span bridge was opening to allow one of the deep-sea quahogging boats [*see note below] to pass through and up to the North Terminal. Even I could see that the quahogger was sitting poorly in the water, wallowing as it tried to come about and head up the harbor once the bridge opened. The whole boat tilted towards the bow, and there wasn’t much freeboard. The Tugboat Captain and the pilot were shaking their heads. One of them said something like, “Either you have to be lucky, or you have to have a really good skipper.”

“What’s with that boat?” I asked curiously.

The pilot said, “It looks like the boat was built for something else, and modified for quahogging.”

“He’s got a full load of clams,” said the Tugboat Captain, to clarify further.

“Geez,” I said, “I don’t know anything about boats, but even I can see that’s one boat I wouldn’t want to set foot on.”

They both shook their heads.

I’m always fascinated how people in different professions see the world. All I saw was a boat that looked kind of funny, but they could see far more than I. The Ornithologist and Carol, sunk deep in their conversations of alternative energy and environmental impacts, didn’t even notice the quahogger. As for me, really the main reason I noticed the quahogger is that as a minister, I’ve been trained to watch people — I didn’t see the quahogger per se; I actually saw that the Tugboat Captain and the pilot were seriously interested in something, and followed their gaze.

* If you’re unfamiliar with the term “quahog,” it refers to a species of clam, known in the kitchen as littlenecks, cherrystones, steamers, etc., depending on their size. Here in New Bedford, they pronounce it “ko-hog,” but my mother, whose family was from Nantucket, always said “kwa-hog.” Wikipedia on quahogs.

One thought on “Of tug boats, birds, and quahoggers

  1. Jean

    That’s cool. I tell my writing students this all the time: who you are and what you know informs how you see the world.
    It’s like reading a text that you know the language of and then translating it for someone else. hmm. sounds vaguely like
    lit crit talk there….At any rate:
    Come to a horse barn someday and I’ll show you how people see the nuances of a horse, and its rider, with different levels
    of clarity and nuance. It’s fascinating.

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