Harbour Tugboats

By Nicolas Bocskai

It is early winter and the Christmas season of the year… a celebration time to honor the birth of Jesus Our Lord about 2000 years ago. At this time of year, families are reunited and brought together for the joyous occasion. The children are secure and excited about all of the events leading up to Christmas Day. Various activities go hand in hand with the season. Such events are, Church School Christmas Pageants, gift purchases for family members and friends, and selection of the family Yule time Christmas tree.

Some evenings, the family drives thru the neighborhood to observe home decorations and various Church Nativity scenes. It is exciting as families prepare their homes for the Yule time festivities.

As a tradition, children and parents go Christmas tree shopping looking for the perfect tree for their home. Under the white lights at a tree lot, the children are captured by a sense of wonder. Upon arrival to the tree lot, the night air is cold and crisp. The sound of falling sleet onto the street pavement close by bounces on the tree grounds also. In the background, Christmas music is heard over the loud speaker system. The music comes from the lot office which is a mobile camper converted to a temporary seasonal office for sales and warmth from the cold breezes that pass this way at times. A barrel fire on the grounds has the tree salesmen standing around the flame rubbing their hands as they drink coffee and eggnog together.

The cold weather and early evening hour brings quite a few potential tree buyers to the lot. Under the night-lights, the trees are difficult to see to tell how perfectly they are shaped. The time is right, the opportunity perfect, for a reduced tree price. The selection of a six-foot evergreen spruce is made with the children laughing and carrying on with their parents. The family purchases the tree and without hesitation the tree lot attendant loads their tree onto the top of their automobile and secures it with elastic tie downs. Soon, they will be home to decorate and prepare their house for the most blessed time of the year.

Later today, this family father must report to his duty task for the next two weeks as a tugboat Captain. This is the beginning of the month of December of the present year. Captain Smith, his name, will report in a few hours to the tugboat company for duty thru mid-December, leaving himself open to be free through the Christmas Holiday.

The hours pass quickly and at midnight he is aboard the tug, "Sarah Constant," with his crew of seven.

Moving along the Elizabeth River, the tug comes to the Norfolk trestle train bridge leading into Chesapeake City. With the blast of his horn, the tug pauses becoming dead in the water as the bridge operator opens the train bridge to allow passage of the tug into the river channel from the docking berth of the tugboat company. The journey of the crew for the next two weeks is just beginning.

It is a cold deep December night with little activity for the first A.M. watch duty for the crew of the "Sarah Constant!"

The early morning passes and the crew rests, has meals, and plays chess in the galley mess hall on board the tug.

By mid-day, menial tasks are performed by the crew. First, a touch and go situation with a barge of trash that had been given a green light to deliver to the Norfolk City dump site. This is located at Lambert's Point along the wharf ridge of the river in a remote area. The city had begun to cover this site with soil and clay, which would eventually become a small mountain city park for the citizens once completed. A similar project had been successfully completed in Virginia Beach. The city converted a trash landfill into a hilly park for families, which was quite safe. It is called Mount Trashmore by the city. A similar vision had been started, to be completed, by the City of Norfolk in a few years here at Lambert's Point.

The late afternoon hours of the workday was upon them. The crew was relatively quiet while treading water back to Harbour Point and Waterside along the Elizabeth River in Norfolk.

The afternoon hours were coming to a close for activities in the downtown city department shopping stores and mall. The bankers were starting to depart the financial district of the city. The Christmas season was present as shoppers and candlestick makers both rejoiced over the seasonal influx of business. The merchants of the mall and downtown stores had decorated their windows for Christmas shortly before Thanksgiving last month. The most joyous season of the year was soon to be.

City dwellers, walking along the wharf of Waterside, along the harbour city skyline, focused their attention toward the river. At this evening dusk hour, a foghorn was sounding in the regional dwelling of Hampton Roads. Visitors and city workers were departing for the day as they left Norfolk City along the dockside of the Elizabeth
River. The lights of the buildings cast a glow in the low cloud cover of the foggy evening at dusk among the city dwellings… and now there was activity on the river.

The seven man crew of the "Sarah Constant" tugboat were on deck observing the fog for this unusual dusk occurrence. The city Christmas building lights reflected the glow in the cloud cover. There was motion on the river as the tugboat and crew steamed along the port river to the Portsmouth Terminals. The fog was laying low at this dinner hour and soon the tugboat cleared the Berkeley Bridge overhead. There was heavy Christmas traffic exiting downtown Norfolk heading toward the Portsmouth Tunnel. With the movement and sounds of horns of the automobile traffic, the headlights of the automobiles, traveling over the bridge, glowed in the fog. Beneath the bridge, the tug, "Sarah Constant," moved soundlessly and oblivious to the traffic above. The running lights and sound of the tugboat engines made the nostalgic vision complete, in the early fog, of this P.M. rush hour.

It is winter in the harbour… the cold weather cuts deep on the deck of the tugboat. Yes… the cold cuts deep to the bone on this December evening deep freeze. The crew was on deck observing the Christmas lights. The salty breeze was gentle at this time. The salt water spray from the motion of the tug through the river currents splashed an occasional mist into the faces of the idle crew on board. The movement of the tugboat was steady on the river at this late winter day.

A dark evening sky had settled on Hampton Roads harbour. At a different location, along the Elizabeth River skyline, the tugboat, "Anna Marie," moved slowly eastward onto the river channel in the Campostella section of Norfolk.

The duty task of the evening was to transfer a loaded barge of pebble rock to the Portsmouth Marine terminals further west on the river. The yellow running lights of the tug were visible at some distance in the thick fog that had settled to the surface of the water here also. The winter winds were moderate at this time as the fog drifted in the breeze. It was high tide with the moon directly overhead hidden from view.

Solitude and the restful sound of the waves was therapeutic to the ears of the crew. The expressions on their faces told the story. Now, with eyes ever so heavy, the desire to sleep was overcoming their ability to resist a few winks. The tugboat crew works two-week tours each month. Being on call always, their duty is stop and go, depending on the local demand of the maritime forces' need for help. The tugs are ocean
going vessels that are available for whatever services needed. Since Hampton Roads is a busy seaport, there are many tug companies in the area. The work is steady!

It is still the winter season of the year. The months of the winter freeze had moved by quickly. Valentine's Day was just last week. Each tugboat crew had pulled
several tours of duty since last Christmas. The winter season had worn out its welcome.
The tug crews of all the local company boats were looking for relief with the warm
weather of spring just around the corner. Even the ground hog on Ground Hogs Day had predicted six more weeks of cold weather because he had seen his shadow under the sun that day. Even if he had not seen his shadow, because of cloudy conditions, six more weeks of cold weather would have to be. For on February 2, six more weeks of winter would have to evolve before the spring season in March would arrive.

Yes… coming with the spring season was the Easter week consisting of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday morning. This is for all Christian believers in Jesus Christ. Yes, Easter Week brings great joy to Christian Saints and those who hope in Jesus around the world. For on this day, Easter Sunday morning, was the day that Jesus arose from His death on the Cross, to bring everlasting life to a dead world. Those who put their lives in His hands, have great expectations for abundant living. For He has come to release captives from the bondage of the devil, to heal the sick, to proclaim Good News to the poor in spirit, and to preach deliverance from the shackles of the mind. Yes, He is our Saviour and yours also. Talk to Him… see what you can do for Him… for His reward to you is eternal life with His Father, Jehovah God, and the glory of creation for all to share.

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