Green Spring

On my afternoon walk today, I decided to head out and cross the harbor via Pope’s Island. Just as I got in sight of the swing bridge, it began to close: the gates came down, and pretty soon the bridge started to turn so some boat could pass. I looked to see what boat it was. It was a fair-sized ship, about a hundred yards long, helped along by a tugboat. I kept walking towards the bridge, until I could read her name in white letters on the green bow: Green Spring, a ship in the Green Reefers line; you could see “Green Reefers” in big white letters on her side, and the rakish “GR” painted on her smokestack. The black and white tugboat accompanying her through the bridge, and tied to her stern, was named Jaguar. Jaguar’s skipper gave two short toots as they went through the bridge.

Once Green Spring got through the bridge, you could see Jaguar’s propellors churning up the water, stopping Green Spring’s forward motion, starting to swing the big ship’s stern over towards the Maritime Terminal dock. Jaguar tooted her whistle now and then; presumably to signal what she was going to do next, though I thought that he two ships must have communicated mostly by radio. Once Green Spring’s forward momentum was stopped, Jaguar untied from her stern and maneuvered over to her starboard side, about a third of the way up from her stern. From there, Jaguar began to nudge Green Spring’s stern around Fish Island and towards Maritime Terminal. Tiny little Jaguar pulled her, nudged her, pushed her gently back, and back, and back. Every now and then you could see the wash from Green Spring’s propellors helping Jaguar pull her backwards towards her berth.

It was more than twenty minutes from the time Green Spring passed through the bridge until she approached the dock; I stood in the sun, watching her slow stately progress over that short distance; watching Jaguar nudge and pull and ease her into her berth. A fellow walked up, unshaven, knapsack on his back, coat open, and stood beside me, also watching. He kept up an intermittent commentary, so softly I had to keep asking him to repeat himself; I think he was talking more to himself than to me. He said something about, what if she broke away and hit the bridge we were standing on? Where we stood was a little lower than Green Spring’s after deck; I had already thought briefly about what would happen if she hit us. “You know it’s gotta happen,” said the unshaven man. He went on to say something about aircraft carriers. “What’s that?” I said. “I don’t know what the Nimitz would be doing here though,” he said.

Another man, walking purposefully, paused a little ways away, watched for a few minutes. The bright late afternoon sun shone down. The longshoremen caught the heaving line, and hauled the first stern rope up onto the wharf. Once it was looped over the massive cleat on the dock, the crew of Green Spring, clad in blaze-orange jumpsuits and white hard hats, turned on the winch and pulled the slack up out of the water. The unshaven man gave up and walked away; I didn’t see the other man leave but after awhile I noticed he was gone; I stayed to watch a little longer.

Jaguar pulled her stern out a little, swinging the bow in. After two abortive tries, the longshoremen threw the heaving line back up to the crew, who sent two more stern ropes to them. Watching this, I missed them getting the first bow line tied off to the dock. By now, I had been standing there for a good forty minutes. The sun was sinking ever lower, the cold was starting to seep in. The crew started to winch the bow in towards the dock. Good: I’d seen enough; as far as I was concerned, Green Spring was safely berthed.

On my way back a half an hour later, I saw that the gangplank ran up to Green Spring’s deck, that no crewmembers stood on her deck any longer. I imagined that one or two of the ship’s officers were up at the U.S. Customs House a block from our apartment, taking care of whatever paperwork had to be taken care of; I imagined most of the crew wandering New Bedford, maybe finding a friendly bar; I imagined one crew member, unlikely as it seems, visiting the Whaling Museum to find out how mariners of the past once fared. Tomorrow, the crew will be back on deck; the semi trucks will be backed up to the loading dock next to the Maritime Terminal building, the crew will be at the ship’s cranes swinging cargo onto the dock, the forklifts driven by longshoremen will be whizzing back and forth, they will be loading the reefer trucks and one by one sending them on their various ways.

For a picture of tugboat Jaguar, visit this tugboat fan page, and scroll down almost to the bottom of the page.