|S/S Texaco Florida|
I spent two months on the Florida and remember the time well. We nearly had a collision running southbound off the Florida Keys when an old freighter, the Ocean Transporter, didn't follow the Rules of the Road and failed to give way. He passed very close astern. I don't believe there was anyone on watch because when I started blowing the danger signal, I could see people running up to the bridge. If we hadn't blown our whistle, he would have run high and dry up on the reefs. The next voyage, I saw the same vessel laid up in Port Neches, Tx.
I nearly got myself fired from my first ship. One trip into Bayonne, I made the mistake of bringing my wife-to-be onboard for a tour. Capt. Eddy was smitten. The whole trip south he talked about her. Now Capt. Eddy could be crude at times and he was particularly crude about my fiancee. At first his comments were humorous but when he saw he couldn't get a rise out of me, his comments got worse. I happened to be on watch on arrival off Sabine Pass. He had been on me about my fiancee already that morning but when he started to tell the river pilot about her in graphic detail, that put me over the top. I lit into him then and there and called him every name in the book. The pilot's mouth dropped open and the Chief Mate dragged me into the chartroom and told me I'd probably get fired. Capt. Eddy did nothing and never brought the subject up again. I guess he realized he'd crossed the line.
Port Arthur, TX was Texaco's home base. There were 8 berths on Texas Island, 3 or 4 of them usually filled. Texaco had 21 American Flag ships when I first joined the company. At the end, in 1995, only 3 remained, the Georgia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. On my first voyage to Port Arthur, there was a package waiting for me from the local Chamber of Commerce extolling the benefits of living in the so-called Golden Triangle. The package quickly made its way into the circular file. Port Arthur had seen its better days. Besides the Lions Den, a Walgreens and Monte's news stand, there wasn't much worth going ashore for.
In many ports, Texaco provided port relief mates and engineers who came aboard and stood sixteen hours of watches to give the regular crew a break. One trip in Bayonne, NJ, after the port relief mate arrived, I went home for the day. That evening, the headline television news story was an oil pollution incident involving the Texaco Florida. It seemed that the local terminal had been replacing piping under their dock. The ship was tied up on the North side of the pier and there was a warehouse that stretched the entire length of the pier that prevented one from seeing the other side. The ship hooked up a cargo hose to its manifold and started discharging Fire Chief (Regular) gasoline. Unbeknownst to those on the ship, the dock had hooked its end of the hose to a pipeline that had not been reconnected under the wharf. For three hours, the ship pumped gasoline out the hose, into the shore pipeline and straight into the water on the South side of the pier. Finally the dockman discovered the leak. We wound up being there for three days.
I left the Texaco Florida in the same port I had joined, Providence. A couple of days later I joined the Texaco Wyoming in Port Everglades, FL. The trip down was eventful. Because I was going to be on the Wyoming for less than a month, I chose to bring minimal clothing. I decided to wear my work clothes, khaki pants and shirt, on the plane. I also wore my work boots. Airplane hijackings to Cuba were not uncommon in those days and the flights to and from Florida were prime targets. While walking out on the runway toward the air stairs to board the plane (there were no jetways in those days), I was tapped on the shoulder by a government agent and brought to a room to be searched and questioned. Apparently my work attire fit the profile of a hijacker. After around thirty minutes, my identity was confirmed and I was allowed on the plane, which they had surprisingly held for me. I guess I didn't look too spiffy because as I waited that afternoon on the pier in Port Everglades while the Wyoming docked, the Chief Mate, Jim Howell, yelled down from the bow "Are you the 3rd Mate or the Ordinary Seaman?"
|S/S Texaco Wyoming|
Many of Texaco's American flag ships loaded at Gulf Coast ports and discharged USNH (U.S. North of Hatteras). So how do you get there from here? Well, a voyage from the Gulf to Northeastern ports took roughly 5 days each way, berth to berth. Counting port time, a round trip took around 2 weeks. Northbound, you wanted to ride the Gulf Stream current as long as possible. Southbound, you wanted to avoid bucking the Gulf Stream. One common Southbound route was to head from Cape Hatteras to Matanilla Shoal north of the Bahamas, then cut over to Jupiter Inlet Light, turn south along the coast past Hillsboro Light and on down to the Florida Keys. Before the threat of pollution altered courses ships were permitted to take when transiting the Florida Straits, we used to sail as close as one mile off the reefs, again trying to avoid the Gulf Stream and maybe catch a counter-current going with us. There are a series of navigation lights along the reefs - Fowey Rocks (off Miami), Pacific Reef, The Elbow, Carysfort Reef, Molasses Reef, Alligator Reef, Sombrero, American Shoal, Sand Key (off Key West), Rebecca Shoal, and Tortugas. Navigation was basic - visual bearings and radar ranges being the norm. It was always interesting on the weekends when, wind and weather permitting, thousands of pleasure boats lined the way. You quickly learned not to alter course when approaching pleasure craft. If you changed course for one and the others noticed, you'd have to change course for all and steer a zig-zag all watch long. Better to continue on a straight course and let them move for you, which they always did.
Texaco's policy toward young mates and engineers was to put them on as many ships as possible to get a broad experience on the different types of vessels in the fleet. My next ship was another jumboized T2 - the "Mighty Minnie," but definitely different than the Wyoming.. Built in 1943 as the Churubusco, she was renamed Minnesota in 1950 and Texaco Minnesota in 1960. She was scrapped in 1989. The most interesting thing about the Minnie was that there were no pipelines on deck; they were all located in the tanks. She was constructed with 2 sets of 3 tanks across on the foredeck and 3 sets of 3 tanks across on the after deck. Having only 15 total tanks and no pipelines on deck made for an easy-functioning layout. We carried clean oils from primarily Port Arthur and Pilottown, LA up to the Northeast ports from Philly to Portland. The captain for most of my 3 months on board was Harry Cannell, a former docking pilot who had recently returned to sea. We got along well. Unfortunately, Harry's next assignment was as Chief Mate on the Texaco Oklahoma which broke in two and sank on March 27, 1971, resulting in his loss as well as the lives of 30 other good men. The second mates during my time on the Minnie were Don Sinclair, who became a Sabine pilot after leaving Texaco, and Wilbur Anderson.
|SS Texaco Minnesota|
The sinking of the Texaco Oklahoma, mentioned above, happened during my vacation time. When my vacation was up, I was assigned to the Texaco Mississippi. Leo Brennan was the Captain, Jim Leppek the Chief Mate and Brad Towne the 2nd Mate. I joined in Port Arthur and we shifted up to the Beaumont Shipyard. In wake of the Oklahoma tragedy, Texaco put many of its ships into various shipyards to have them checked out structurally. I was only on board the Mississippi for a little more than a week before being temporarily assigned to the New York office, where I spent the next 7 months. I was fortunate to live an hour's commute from New York City so the assignment was pretty good. I took the train to Penn Station, changing in Newark, then walked 15 minutes over to the Chrysler Building. Texaco was generous enough to pay for my commuting costs which was much appreciated. The only drawback was that my wife and I had already scheduled a summertime trip to Switzerland and Bavaria based on when I was next due for vacation. The assignment to the New York office threw off my vacation schedule and we had to cancel the trip. We vowed to re-book our Switzerland trip but didn't make it there until 2004, only 33 years later.
I shared an office with Harry Pappas, the assistant port captain. The manager of the marine office at the time was Dick Willoch. Tom Merrill was the port captain. Other local seafarers assigned to the office at the time were Mike Brown, Dick Halluska and Chip Wimperis. Much of our time was spent updating the office navigation charts and port information binders.
Capt. Stan Brownley was temporarily assigned to the office on a special project - going through the Oklahoma's cargo files and recalculating the stresses on the ship. I spent many days working with Capt Stan on this project. The importance of stress calculations stayed with me over the years. When I was Chief Mate, each voyage I would calculate the stress on as many different cargo layouts as possible to try and get the sag factor as low as possible.
|SS Texaco New Jersey|
When I joined, Joe Welch was captain. My watch mates included Horace Guidry and Marshall Nance, brother of the NFL player. When Capt. Welch went on vacation, his replacement was an old-timer who had a drinking problem. He lived in New England and always went home from Fall River. He would be sober on the northbound trip, looking forward to going home. When he returned to the ship from home, he was usually three sheets to the wind and stayed that way for 2 or 3 days. Often the Chief Engineer would join in the partying. One voyage, after leaving Boston, he was particularly soused. It was foggy so we were blowing the whistle one prolonged blast every two minutes. When I came on watch at 2000, we were just clearing Cape Cod. The seas were flat calm. Texaco had recently installed new 3 cm Decca radars which were very sensitive and picked up everything. The captain was on the bridge sleeping in his chair. Every ten or fifteen minutes, he would wake up and say "Third, if you see a target on the radar, stop the ship and blow the danger signal." Then he'd doze off again. After a couple hours of this, he finally went below. In those days, a Russian fishing fleet would often park itself just outside the 12 mile limit. It was common knowledge that some of these ships were spy ships. These Russian fleets were a nightmare to navigate through. It was better to change course to avoid them altogether. Right before the end of my watch that night, the radar started picking up multiple targets close by. Thinking we had run into the fishing fleet, I started changing course. Then more targets would appear. When the Second Mate, Joe Halloran, came up to relieve the watch, I was way off course. I showed Joe the targets and passed on what the captain's orders were. Joe, nicknamed "race horse" for his penchant for going to the track, was a real easy going guy and took the situation in stride. He had been with these new sensitive radars before. He brought the ship back around to the original course and ignoring the targets, plowed ahead. I stuck around on the bridge with him until it cleared up. When it did, we could see what was causing the radar targets. It wasn't fishing boats at all, but multiple fishing buoys fitted with radar reflectors. Normally our radars wouldn't pick them up but it was so calm, they showed up.
The New Jersey called at Fall River regularly. The port relief mate from Boston would come down to cover the first 16 hours of watches which worked out really well for me because I always got 2 watches off. Fall River was a port that required daytime docking and undocking. We always docked in the evening then sailed two days later in the morning. My wife came up to visit frequently, often bringing lottery tickets for the crew, New Jersey being one of the few states to have a lottery in those days. She'd fly to Providence and take the bus from there. We'd stay in the Holiday Inn. There was an Anderson Little outlet in Fall River so we managed to shop for clothes most trips.
|Jersey girl in Salem, MA|
|Typical Engine Order Telegraph|
|SS Texaco Montana - "Queen of the Fleet"|
The Montana was built in 1965 at Sparrows Point (Baltimore). She measured 26,564 DWT and was 604 feet long. She drew 34'11" fully loaded and could average over 17 knots. Her runs were similar to those I had been on before, Gulf Coast ports to USNH. I had good watch mates, AB's Frank Cady and Norman Griffith and OS Horace Guidry, who I had sailed with on the New Jersey. I was fortunate to sail on the Montana many times over the years.
Our usual ship assignments lasted 3 months. I only spent 1 month on the Montana before I was transferred to the Texaco Georgia. The Georgia was a lube oil ship and the Company didn't want to put an inexperienced 3rd Mate there so they switched me and put a newly hired mate on the Montana. Chris Peterson was the Captain when I joined. Brad Towne and Ambrose Peterson were the other two mates. We made one trip up the East Coast then got orders for Guayama, Puerto Rico. We could not locate Guayama on the charts, Guayanilla yes but no Guayama, so the Captain didn't know which side of Puerto Rico to head for. We were halfway there before it was clarified - we were to load at Las Mareas, which is apparently near the town of Guayama. The voyage down was eventful as we ran smack into a nasty winter storm. We slowed down to where we were barely making way and rode out the storm as best we could. Hurricane force winds and 50 foot seas off of Cape Hatteras made for an unpleasant couple of days. I thought Capt. Peterson did a very professional job handling the ship through the storm.
After loading at Las Mareas, we proceeded to Port Arthur to load lubes for the West Coast. Capt. Peterson was replaced by Capt. McCulley, the Commodore of the fleet. Capt. McCulley was a real stickler for detail, specially in regard to log book entries. He insisted that All Fast, Tugs Away, Gangway Out and FWE all be the same entry. I remember there being a problem rigging the gangway in Long Beach, CA. We must have been tied up for half an hour but he wouldn't let me ring off the engines. The tug boats kept calling on the VHF to be released and the engineers below called as well wanting to know what the delay was. It was all caused by what I would politely call a captain's quirk. We all have them I suppose. The highlight of my time on the Georgia was an unexpected visit in Long Beach by John and Patti McConnico, who drove down from Fresno. It was always nice to see family. We went to Disneyland.
|SS Texaco New York|
Sailing from Eagle Point that trip we had an unusual occurrence. We were nearly struck by an Air Force jet whose pilot had apparently lost control. There were several jets flying low but in formation. One started to dive and passed immediately in front of our bow. Just before it hit the water, the pilot pulled the jet out of its dive. Being on watch on the bridge, I had a good view of the whole incident. The plane was clearly lower than our fore mast, no more than 50 feet above the river, when the pilot regained control. We passed over the airplane's wake in a matter of seconds after it pulled up. I have to believe this was totally accidental because I can't imagine a pilot purposely pulling such a Kamikaze stunt on an American ship in an American port.
Captain Harry went on vacation and was replaced by Ed Kitchens, who I had previously sailed with on the Montana. He took a liking to my wife's chocolate chip cookies, which she brought to the ship whenever we were in port. One trip, while anchored in New York Harbor, I rode the Stapleton launch ashore to home for the afternoon, bringing the empty cookie tin with me so I could get a refill. Customs agents, stationed at the launch, occasionally checked items being brought ashore. They were particularly concerned with the cookie crumbs in my tin, thinking the ingredients might have contained drugs. After sampling the cookie remnants, they confirmed they were indeed chocolate chip cookies and commented that my wife was a good cook.
I was on the New York during the gas shortage of 1973, only there wasn't really a gas shortage. On several voyages, we anchored in New York Harbor for extended periods of time loaded with full cargoes of gasoline and no place to discharge, all the shore gasoline storage tanks in the area being full. One voyage, after completion of discharge, we cleaned tanks and went up the Hudson River to load fresh water for the refinery in Trinidad.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the New York. I spent most of my free time preparing for my Second Mate's license and Capt Harry, Capt Kitchens and Bruce were ready, willing and able to answer any study questions I had.