When combined with its companion barge, the Bristol Bay will normally be pushing the barge ahead. In certain sea conditions, however, it may become necessary to shift the barge to a towed configuration. This would generally be done when wave height reached the point where the bow-notch joining of the tug and barge became unstable. Since strong sea conditions like that would require excellent seamanship when handling the separation and joining of the barge and tug, the crew practices this manuever from time to time. Since there is a continual rotation of personnel aboard, many new crew members have not yet participated in the manuever, and so today, in the relative calm of Lake St. Clair, the Bristol Bay will shift from pushing the barge to towing it, and then resume the barge-ahead configuration.
Before breaking free from the barge, all electrical connections have to be broken between the two vessels. At the bow of the tug, many control cables and power lines are disconnected and hauled back aboard the barge. The barge switches over to her own power generators at this time.
The barge and tug are prepared to separate, and now all that remains is to break the main cables that bind the stern corners of the barge to the aft quarters of the tug. This link is made from a combination of very large synthetic rope, approximately three inches in diameter, and steel cable, itself over an inch in diameter. An oversized pelican hook is the point of disconnection. On signal from the bridge, crewmen on either side use sledgehammers to release the pelican hook. After release, the large block and tackle on the tug will retain her gear in position. The camera's shutter has just beaten the sledge hammer by a fraction of a second, as the mate swings his mallet to open the pelican hook.
Under her own momentum, the barge drifts ahead as the Bristol Bay backs away from her. Several crewmen remain on the barge, where they retreive the big lines using winches. Next, the tug will circle around to the bow of the barge. A messenger line will be sent over, and the towing line from the tug's stern winch will be hauled aboard the barge and made fast to her towing bridle.
Several hundred yards astern, the barge is taken in tow by the Bristol Bay . A short time later, the tow line is retreived, and the tug manuevers herself back into the notch in the stern of the barge. This requires some excellent ship handling to accomplish, even in the small waves the Lake St. Clair. The Bristol Bay can maintain herself in the notch by pushing ahead, while the deck crew restores the main cables between the two vessels.
The Chief Bosun Mate signals over to the crew on the barge that he needs more slack in their winch line in order to make the line fast to the pelican hook tackle on the tug. That huge synthetic fiber rope is not easy to manhandle, and getting the loop and shackle back into the jaw of the pelican clamp is at least a two-man job. The tug is steaming at 8-10 knots to maintain the barge notch position. The Chief is not happy that it has taken this long to re-link, but that is, of course, the reason for the drill: to improve the crew's efficiency at this crucial maneuver.
Copyright © 1996, 1997 by James W. Hebert. All rights reserved.
Page Last modified: January 25, 1997;