a day on the kill van kull
I am fond of the Kill Van Kull—the waterway, not the band (admittedly, I have not yet heard the band.)
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].
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.
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.
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.
And, in front of the site, was this sign on the fence…
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!