Your Stories, From The Edge


Almost Dead Right?

By Captain Bob Oatway
Published: August/September 2013

Knowledge of the rules of the road is critical. But so is common sense, opines this member, who's also a professional mariner.

Photo of of the cabin of the tug Hope
Photo: Douglas Bernon
All the rules in the book, and a captain with the highest professional standards,
can't stop a barge, ship — or the tug Hope — once it's too late.

I'm a boat owner, captain of an 80-foot tugboat, and I work all over New England. While pushing a 130-foot crane barge in Rhode Island a while back, I came upon a sailing class about a half-mile outside Newport Harbor. I was born and raised in Newport, spent most of my life on the waterfront, and this has always been a pleasant sight for me.

So what happened next came as a surprise.

Photo of Captain Bob Oatway
Photo: Douglas Bernon


Capt. Oatway operates the tug Hope in New England.

There were six 16-foot sailboats, and one tender with two instructors aboard. It was a beautiful summer day with plenty of boat traffic, and 10 knots of wind — perfect conditions. The sailboats were stopped, either taking a break or between races. After giving the standard security call on the VHF stating my destination, I turned to port, as there was more and larger traffic to starboard. This put the class to starboard. When we were 300 yards off, one of the sailboats broke from the pack, turned toward my course, and started across my bow. I slowed further and turned to starboard to avoid him, turning "early and obvious" as tug operators like to say.

But at 200 yards, the same sailboat turned and headed across my bow again. I slowed even more and turned away a second time. At 100 yards off, the boat turned again and proceeded across my bow for a third time! At this point, I had to go into full reverse.

By the time I stopped my 700-ton tug and barge, the class was 75 feet off my port side. The youngster on the rebel boat gave me the one-finger salute, and yelled that he'd had the right of way. My crew of four stood on the barge deck in disbelief.

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