Posted in new york harbor, shipping, vhf by bowsprite on 2009/02/17

The VHF marine radio is a potpourri of accents, a lovely collage of voices.

On channel 13, bridge to bridge, captains call out passing arrangements: one whistle is “I intend to pass you on my port side,” two whistles, “I intend to pass you on my starboard.”

One evening, a few months ago, the Cosco Bremerhaven, out by the 29 buoy called out to another ship. In a crisp, tight Irish accent, the captain of the Bremerhaven requested to meet the captain of the oncoming vessel at 1 whistle.

The response, in a warm, drawling, very VERY thick Brooklyn accent, came back: “Yeah, well, we’re just gonna pull over here in the channel and give you more room, and let you go by over here.” My heart warmed with his hospitality to the foreign captain.

A moment of silence, and then in the Irish accent: “I’m sorry, sir, could you repeat that?”


Another exchange:

(Indian accent, proper and polite): “British Lines, to the Dela rosa…British Lines, Dela Rosa.
(American accent): “Dela Rosa.”
(Indian accent): “Uh, what are your intentions, sir? are you angry?”
(American): “Yes, we’re anchoring.”
(Indian accent): “Oh, well, could you please give us some room?”
(American): “Will do.”
(Indian): “Thank you, sir…”

Beautiful accents…”dulcet” is how NYTugmasters describes the lyrical southern and cajun accents.

It’s not just voices one hears. One midnight, a captain announced his plans to go to sea. In the background was a quick whiff of Jimi Hendrix.

Another time, some poor captain shared his wheelhouse with some very noisy machinery, so that whenever he spoke on the radio, he seemed to be accompanied by a bagpipe quartet.

11 Responses

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  1. tugster said, on 2009/02/17 at 06:07

    thanks for the next installment of vhf prose. altho this strays a bit from accent, a few months back i heard traffic calling incoming container ship as alternately “hamberry” and “hammer bee.” i wondered. when said ship passed my position, lettering in english and arabic identified it as “hammurabi.” keep up your good work.

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/02/17 at 09:08

      Yes! I still keep thinking it’s Raw Sea out there! (Ross Sea).

  2. Mage Bailey said, on 2009/02/18 at 21:39

    Wonderful prose poem. Magic……thank you. I haven’t heard this nice stuff since the boat was sold.

  3. George Conk said, on 2009/02/22 at 12:35

    Good ear for dialog, wonderful drawings.

    BTW: Inland Navigation Rule 13 Overtaking: one short blast if the overtaking vessel intends to pass on the slower vessel’s starboard side. Two short blasts if it intends to pass on the slower vessel’s port side.

    Source: Eldridge Tide & Pilot Book

    – George Conk

  4. Jeff Anzevino said, on 2009/02/22 at 21:09

    I enjoyed your piece about vhf broadcasts. I love to listen too. Last week I overheard an exchange on the upper Hudson River between a southbound tug pushing a loaded barge and a northbound bulk carrier. They agreed on a one whistle pass. But as the two approached the northbound ship’s captain must have felt a bit pinched because he hailed the southbound unit and requested a two whistle pass as the unit had encroached on the ships course. The tug responded that he could adjust his course right away and still make the standard one whistle pass.

    I love your sketches and writing. keep them coming. I’ll be checking back.

  5. Michael said, on 2009/02/28 at 15:25

    Very enjoyable…I’ve read this three times and enjoy it more with each reading. Makes me want to get a radio just to listen to the traffic.

    Jimi Hendrix is outstanding inspiration to head into big water, of course.

  6. JP said, on 2009/03/01 at 11:50

    Just found your blog- lovely water colours

  7. Old Bakelite said, on 2009/04/15 at 13:16

    I like.

  8. […] absolute favorite VHF moment is here, “Are you angry?” Tagged with: marine radio, mariners, NYHarbor, ships, tugs, […]

  9. Becca said, on 2011/05/03 at 08:29

    My favorite in the Charleston harbor was a very thick drawl from a pissed-off guy. A speedboater had left him in his wake and he yelled “See if yew kin outrun mah shotgun pellets next tahm, asshole!”

  10. […] possibly write about this topic without first referencing Bowsprite’s prior posts here and here. Not only did she accurately (and highly entertainingly) capture the lingo, her whimsical drawings […]

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