Bowsprite: A New York Harbor Sketchbook

a day on the kill van kull

Posted in kill van kull, tankers, tugs by bowsprite on 2009/03/07

west1

I am fond of the Kill Van Kull—the waterway, not the band (admittedly, I have not yet heard the band.)

east3

Unlike the magical Arthur Kill further on southwest, which is very beautiful if you blot out traces of human intervention, I like the KVK as it is.

The north side of the KVK (New Jersey) is lined with rows of tanks, tubes, and aging docks. Different colors & shapes for different companies.
On the south side (Staten Island) are shipyards, apartment buildings, a salt dock, the elegant, historical Snug Harbor, telephone poles, trees, a passing bus, Tugster’s outdoor offices.
And the meat, the juice, is the traffic that streams by, endlessly, over the water. Containerships and tankers share the road with the littlest boom boats…and tugs galore.

“Heading into the stream” is what you hear on the radio: tugs pulling barges into the ‘stream’, the federal channel. The channel is cerified to 43′ depth, but most has been dredged to 50′, to be certified 50′ by 2013 [Army Corps of Engineers].

dredgelo

We were working in an area that had been dredged to 45′ several years ago, but needed to be deepened. The job, going inland, was not clay, as was originally thought, but a very soft dirt. The dredge was making cuts and creating shoals at the ends, which rose up and did not make grade.

We left our little survey boat and boarded the giant dredge for a quick meeting. Friendly faces peered over, asking if I needed help making the hitch.

The dredge’s charts that shows the cuts they make is called a progress chart, and this is what the men studied while I looked around. All was neat, tidy and sparse. An ear plugs dispenser was only colorful thing there, amid all the metal and grey. Out on deck and up close, the winches were HUGE, towering in circumference over a crew member.

earplugs

It was getting late in the day, the dredge crew was tired and anxious, for some had flights booked that afternoon to go back south to their homes. We got back onto the survey boat, two tugs that were on standby moved in, and the spuds were lifted on the dredge barge.

tugs2lo

As we moved away from the dredge, we heard a loud bang from a neighboring pier. A tug pulled a barge out quickly and struck another barge, denting it and snapping its line on a bollard. Four men went running to the frayed line, and then one could see how thick that line was!

“Oh, that’s the most dangerous—an empty tanker! The spark from striking steel could instantly ignite the gases, and there would be a huge explosion,” said my boss, matter-of-factly, glancing out the window.

Me, neophyte and naive: “But, we would have survived it?”

“Oh, no. The impact would have killed us, pieces of steel the size of cars. Very dangerous. OK, ready? Fathometer on.”

Thankfully, Towmasters cleared the air with the reassurance that cargo tanks use some sort of Inert Gas System, filling the empty spaces with inert gas produced on board by using boiler exhaust to reduce oxygen that would support combustion. [Oops...I have been corrected. Towmasters writes: "Some (repeat, some) tank barges do have IGS, but they are pretty few and far between. Some of the newer Crowley ATB's, mostly. Although there may be an exception here or there, I know of no conventional tank barges regularly working New York Harbor that are equipped with IGS. In contrast it's commonplace on tankships, except for some of the oldest ones.

For an example of what can go badly wrong on tank barges read this post from NY Tugmaster's Weblog about the explosion of the Bouchard 125 at Port Mobil in 2003."]

When the day ended, I was dropped off by my bicycle tied up at an abandoned pier, and I cycled past our work site on my way to the Staten Island Ferry.

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And, in front of the site, was this sign on the fence…

prettyplease

Indeed no, thank you!

For stunning photos taken on the KVK, please look here at the site of the intrepid kayaker, Frogma, who circumnavigated Staten Island several years ago in a kayak–about 26 miles of paddling!

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18 Responses

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  1. towmasters said, on 2009/03/08 at 00:40

    Not so fast, Bowsprite. Some (repeat, some) tank barges do have IGS, but they are pretty few and far between. Some of the newer Crowley ATB’s, mostly. Although there may be an exception here or there, I know of no conventional tank barges regularly working New York Harbor that are equipped with IGS. In contrast it’s commonplace on tankships, except for some of the oldest ones.

    For an example of what can go badly wrong on tank barges read this post from NY Tugmaster’s Weblog about the explosion of the Bouchard 125 at Port Mobil in 2003. Go to http://captbbrucato.wordpress.com/2009/02/05/the-bouchard-125-port-mobil-explosion/

  2. tugster said, on 2009/03/08 at 09:24

    fantastic description . . . mahattan and brooklyn mush. also, love the earplugs. more soon, i hope, and wait with bated breath.

  3. seabart said, on 2009/03/08 at 15:00

    lol @ “not to be used for navigation”!!

  4. TH said, on 2009/03/09 at 08:56

    Love the illustrations – a fan of the earplugs as well!

  5. naveganteglenan said, on 2009/03/09 at 15:03

    Geniales watercolours, again :-)
    I’ll include a link to my blogroll to enjoy one every day !!!

  6. Jeff Anzevino said, on 2009/03/10 at 05:43

    Great description. i am actually very jealous of all you kill crusiers–having never been there myself I’d love to see the tug graveyard, arch bridge, ship yards, and oil terminals. Someday…

    And those blue tugs do look familiar.

  7. Michael said, on 2009/03/10 at 09:18

    You are hilarious!

  8. tugster said, on 2009/03/10 at 15:23

    this just in . . . i just got two tickets to kill van kull (the band) playing this sunday up north. wanna go? they’re front row seats, and a friend i trust says we can get back stage. let me know asap!! their rendition of “famous blue raincoat” is ethereal.

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/03/10 at 15:46

      someone: help–how does one make a ‘skeptical’ smileycon? ]: ?
      I am dubious of your offer, Tugster Punster. Sounds too good to be true. ): P

  9. Michael said, on 2009/03/10 at 15:59

    There’s a band? I just figured that the Van Kull family made a whole lot of enemies back in the day. They probably moved out west to start fresh.

  10. Mage Bailey said, on 2009/03/11 at 09:48

    This is an absolutely fascinating entry. Thank you so much. I had fresh pictures of tugs and car carriers to offer, but I was swept off my feet by a whale in our bay. I haven’t a good shot of it, but it did my best. Darling drawing too.
    PS: Is there really such a band?

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/03/11 at 10:25

      Hey, Mage! thanks! yes, the band exists, and a motley crew they are!–oh, wait, no that’s another band…
      Hurrah for the whale! xo c

  11. Michael said, on 2009/03/11 at 10:42

    More whales, I say! Someone should put out whale food in an appropriate spot.

  12. tugster said, on 2009/03/11 at 15:25

    my favorite kill van kull tune has them harmonizing with whales. melodic. and to all the skeptics, tant pis.

  13. John Paul VIII said, on 2009/03/11 at 21:41

    I usually take two earplugs in the morning and two more at night, I find that it silences my stomach. However, I will not administer the earplugs to Barack Obama until he distances himself from the Crab Nebula.
    Now, as to the dredging, funny you should mention that, we were dredging the moat around Vatican City just this past week, and, of all things, they pulled up three Neanderthal skeletons. They were without vestments. But you could tell they were toolmakers, as there was a craftsman wrench clutched in the fist of one of them. The wrench was in better shape than the fist, I tell you! The father probably lost his job in the Great Depression that followed The Flood (it was hard to get even a minimum wage job at that time) and died of starvation. How they ended up in my moat, I’ll never know!

  14. Mage Bailey said, on 2009/03/14 at 20:41

    I thought of you today as I was sketching an old Citroen. I couldn’t make anything look like anything and got very discouraged. Thinking of you and your drawings made me smile and continue.

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/03/14 at 21:06

      dear Mage! you’re so sweet! replying to you via email…! c!

  15. [...] IV, stealing seaward while the undifferentiated urban mush starts to awaken–or call it a night in some cases–I know you’re a crew boat I see [...]


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