No, I can’t go with him. Ever. Please stop asking.

Being married to a guy who goes out to sea elicits ongoing explanations–what does he do, why does he go away; he’s fishing, right? (Wrong)

At the gym today, one of the girls asked me the question I have been asked literally hundreds of times, “Do you ever get to go with him?”

NO, I can’t ever go with him, nor can I meet him and spend a few days sightseeing.

In the middle of the ocean?

These are working vessels. They don’t carry passengers for safety and security reasons; plus he works ALL the time.

Usmm-sealA refresher for new readers…my husband’s a tugboat captain. He’s also referred to as a mariner or a merchant seaman. He’s a member of the United States Merchant Marine.

The way most tug captains and crew are paid when they’re out to sea is on a “daily rate” basis which means he’s literally on the clock 24 hours a day.

Sometimes it’s eight hours on and four hours off, or six hours on and six hours off. In the “off” times, he has to eat and shower and sleep, which is why seamen often suffer from sleep deprivation.

When he comes home after a long assignment, it takes about a week to regulate his body to a more normal sleep/awake pattern.

I guess there are still some situations where spousal visits to ports are possible, but that’s never been my own experience, and since I get seasick and tugs are super noisy and smelly and dirty, I’m not sure it would be that much fun.

Here’s how we prepare for a long assignment. We’ve discovered that having a departure routine is also a coping strategy, as it helps us work as a team.

The prep is a major undertaking, although a reluctant one on my part, because it ends with a drive to the airport as a couple and the drive home alone. When our beloved pets were still alive (Victor the Border Collie and our daughter cat, Bandit) just getting the suitcases out of the garage actually caused them to become depressed, as they both came to associate that action with their daddy going away. So sad.

A very old pic of Bandit as a kitten and old man Victor

Bandit as a kitten and old man Victor. The best kind of love.

We make a lot of lists so he’ll have enough supplies of personal items to last the duration of his assignment. He’s often gone for 2-4 months without any stops in port or he’ll be in a part of the world that doesn’t have a Target or CVS on every corner.

There’s always a cook aboard the tug, so he doesn’t have to worry about preparing his meals, but he has to have enough toothpaste (4), dental floss (4), vitamins, the kind of tea he likes (Yogi Antioxidant and Ginger), underwear, socks, shampoo (Kiehls is the shampoo of choice), sunscreen, and supplies for his marlinspike seamanship projects.

ropework bottle IMG_0786

I pack raw almonds, raisins, dried (unsweetened) mangos and papayas from Trader Joe’s to ensure he has healthy snacks for as long as possible.

He fills two large suitcases, two medium suitcases, and a backpack that contains his computer, iPod, other personal items.


Serious things…

I think it’s important to have a discussion about serious matters,  just in case.

It’s something no one wants to think about, but the reality is that a tugboat is a dangerous place, and it’s smart–not to mention empowering–to be prepared in the event of a worst case scenario.

I suggest making sure you each have current powers of attorney and easy access to all financial documents. (I’m not an attorney; this is just what we have found to be a good idea).

He always checks our two cars to make sure they’re in good working order, fills the gas can for the lawnmower, and completes any last minute house repair jobs. This last time he washed the second story windows. (I abhor dirty windows!!)

It’s these little things that he does that make me feel like we’re still connected even when he’s an ocean (or two) away.

It’s equally as important to know how to reach him in case of an emergency. Cell phones often don’t work in remote locations, and there’s a definite course of action with the company if it becomes necessary to bring him home.

Make sure that neighbors, family, friends have that emergency contact information–just in case.

After his first long assignment, we installed a security system for peace of mind as much as for actual protection.

And to give you a real idea of what life is like aboard a tug, try this…
Leave your lawn mower running in your living room 24 hours a day.
Set your alarm clock to go off at random times during the night. When it goes off, jump out of bed and get dressed as fast as you can.
[Taken from]


How to prepare for a cruise: Tips from a professional mariner

Are you planning a cruise vacation?

Some things you should know before you go–from my personal maritime expert.

My captain’s in an isolated location with no TV or newspapers or internet access (other than simple email) so I include in my daily missives to him local and national news updates.

The Cruise Ship Carnival Triumph

I sent lots of reports about the problems of the broken and stranded Carnival ship Triumph last week–that poor ship ultimately endured a less than triumphant arrival into port amidst horrific tales of sewage-soaked carpets and open decks, with food so limited that passengers were reduced to eating candy and ketchup on buns.

2-14-13-Carnival-Triumph_full_600Since I have my own personal encyclopedia of maritime knowledge at my fingertips (ha ha) I thought it’d be interesting to share his thoughts about it.

People think I’ve been on every boat imaginable because of him–but that’s not true. I’ve never taken a cruise for a couple of reasons; I don’t like boats very much (unless they’re named after meand I’m too impatient. I like to get to my destination in a hurry.

A boat ride, whether it’s in a lagoon or a river or an ocean–is inherently rife with danger.

My captain’s been involved in salvage work for maritime accidents where he’s had to dive and search for bodies. As you might image, it’s impossible to erase those images from his memory.

The Titanic and the Costa Concordia are obvious examples of the worst possible outcomes.

Living in close quarters brings out the best and the worst in people–even without a disaster to deal with. Add an engine fire, backed up toilets, unlimited alcohol, and you’ve got a potential explosion. Some people panic, hoard food and water; some drink too much (the Triumph crew wisely shut down the open bar)–while others step up to the challenge with exemplary leadership skills; share, organize, and deal with the situation in a calm and logical manner.

I’ve listed a few of my captain’s recommendations before you embark on a cruise. This is by no means an exhaustive list; just a few tips from my in-house expert.

  • If you don’t already have one, obtain a Passport Card, which is a separate document from a Passport that you might have to surrender to a foreign flagged cruise ship. In the event that your passports are taken, a Passport Card might give you a sense of well-being if you want to get off the ship in a foreign port and go home.
  • Take a small flashlight and carry it with you at all times. Keep it next to your bedside.
  • Pack energy bars; nuts and raisins, and even protein powder if you have luggage space.
  • Take part in the lifeboat drills, know where your life jackets are and how to put them on. Pay attention!
  • Locate your life jacket in your cabin as soon as you arrive; practice putting it on.
  • Don’t wait for the required safety drill to memorize the location of your assigned lifeboat.
  • Make a family plan. Stay together.
  • Practice finding your way from your stateroom to a stairway to the deck bypassing an elevator. Know how to escape.
  • Find a U.S. cruise line in the inner coastal waters or Alaska or on the Rivers instead of a foreign flagged vessel that might not offer a passenger the same rights and legal protections. Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Pride of America is the only large U.S. flagged cruise ship.