to work in a handbasket

Posted in Uncategorized by bowsprite on 2015/01/19

A mariner’s commute to work:
“It was Christmas Eve, probably 1982 or 1983.  I was an able seaman on a 180-foot towing supply boat working with a semi-submersible doing exploratory drilling above Point Conception on the California coast.  We were driven to Santa Maria airport before dawn.  It was cold and the wind was howling, forming cap-clouds on the coastal mountains.

“Our helicopter crossed the coast at a place named Surf, and I could see whitewater for more than a mile offshore.  The helicopter rocked back and forth in the gusty wind as we descended toward the helipad.  It was still rocking when I heard them powering down.  Then I realized that the rig itself was rolling. The boat looked tiny as it worked its way under the crane in heavy seas.  The seas were running 20 to 25 with bigger sets.


“The ride in the personnel basket was–interesting.  There was no open deck space on the boat, which had four 40-foot Baker tanks welded to the deck, so the crane operator aimed the basket for the tank top.

“The boat was heaving 20 feet or more, and when the basket got close, the tank would knock into us, sending us sprawling and scrambling to recover our bags.
Meanwhile the off-bound threw their bags aboard and hung on as the crane operator bounced them off the tank rails getting them airborne.
basket“In Mexico, the slang name for personnel nets is Vuidas (widows).  In many places they are being banned, or replaced by modified and safer devices.

“One of my early experiences with personnel baskets was being dropped from a drill ship to the deck of a ragged little utility boat.  The captain of the utility boat was going on and on about how much he hated personnel baskets.  I guess he had a significant fear of heights, and as we lifted off the deck I could see he was shaking and hanging on with all of his strength.

“The crane operator hung us out over the water, waiting for the boat to back in.  We were suspended at the same height as the crane cab, and this captain looked at the operator and started yelling, “you son-of-a-bitch, goddamn you better be careful or I’m gonna kick your ass you bastard…”   Seemed like a less than brilliant idea, to insult the man who held our lives in his hand.

“Hearing the stream of insults, the crane operator looked at us, then slowly reached up for the mike for the loud-hailer.  He keyed the mike, and quite slowly in a heavy down-da-bayou cajun accent, said, ‘I’m gonna dip you like a tea bag…’

“I nearly fell off the basket laughing. He didn’t dip us, though I think that he would have, had it been the captain alone.”

–Capt D. Porter


5 Responses

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  1. tugster said, on 2015/01/19 at 07:40

    good story. thanks.

  2. Christine Van Lenten said, on 2015/01/19 at 08:04

    Thanks for this gem. Am sharing it with a seagoing friend. xx

    From: “Bowsprite: A New York Harbor Sketchbook” Reply-To: “Bowsprite: A New York Harbor Sketchbook” Date: Monday, January 19, 2015 12:12 AM To: Christine Van Lenten Subject: [New post] to work in a handbasket bowsprite posted: “It was Christmas Eve, probably 1982 or 1983. I was an able seaman on a 180-foot towing supply boat working with a semi-submersible doing exploratory drilling above Point Conception on the California coast. We were driven to Santa Maria airport before da”

  3. said, on 2015/01/19 at 10:13

    Good story, Christina! This is a nice project, because so much of the maritime world – its experiences, sights, sounds – is inaccessible to the outside world. Mariners do things on a daily basis that might seem heroic or foolish to the average shore-dweller; but when you’re there, it’s just how you get through the day!

    You’ve probably thought of this, but have you considered collecting these into a book eventually? I think you are uniquely fitted to translate the maritime world for those outside – and you do it very well. I love the illustrations in this one!

  4. 2geeks3knots said, on 2015/01/19 at 18:10

    Great story! How do you know it?

  5. bowsprite said, on 2015/02/19 at 17:46

    Captain X writes:

    In the GOM the slang term for personnel transfer baskets / nets is “Billy Pugh,” as in: “Time to go take a ride on the Billy Pugh.”

    company info here:

    interesting interview here:

    thx Capt X

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