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Old 04-22-2011, 06:26 PM
Bob Reynolds Bob Reynolds is offline
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Paragould, AR or on m/v MAGNOLIA
Posts: 1,418
Blog Entries: 4

Ted, you are right about all the things you state. However, it is not just deep loaded ships (or even ships in ballast) that give problems during high water.

Several times in your piece you mention tugs and your dependence on them. What has amazed me for years is the way large tows operate on the rivers, often in VERY tight quarters, with almost no assist from other vessels. Often this is done out of necessity as there are no assist boats around. If a pilot is taking 15 loads down into a lock on the Upper Mississippi River, where the guidewall is not a guard wall (i.e., it is on the bank side instead of out on the dam side), he has his hands full! When they have 15 loaded barges, that's 22,500 tons of cargo alone, not counting the weight of the boat and barges themselves. On a 5,600 h.p. boat, that's only about 4 horsepower per ton! Imagine in severe outdraft trying to put that 105 foot wide tow into a 110 foot wide lock chamber and get it stopped without hitting the bullnose, all with no tug. Tugs are now available at many locks on the Upper, but not all. When there is no tug available, the pilot and mate out on the head of the tow must be working together real well, as the mate has to "check" the tow in to the wall on a single part line while the pilot holds the stern in close. Otherwise, the whole tow can draft out over the dam or top around and the results are disaster!

I work on unit tows -- long and skinny, usually 3 barges. Many pilots of large tows think, "Oh those guys on those unit tows have it made...only 3 barges!" Imagine this same scenario at a lock with no tug: we are almost 1,100 feet long, with a total tonnage of 10,200 tons and 3,000 h.p. The difference is we are narrow and have to keep "checking" the head all the way down into the chamber, since we are only 54 feet wide. It adds another whole dimension to the deal!

In the Baton Rouge-New Orleans area, there are high water problems as well. Tows can and do flank bends, but the ships do not have that option. The ship and tow pilot must all work together to make sure we don't get to a sharp bend at the same time. Either a ship or tow will have to run slow for a good piece to give the other time to do what they need, almost like a big "dance" over several miles! In the BR-NO corridor add to that that there are barge fleets along almost every mile of river that stick out to nearly mid river. Fleet boats are running around tending to their own business and dodging in and out of ship and tow traffic. Radio traffic is never-ending, and the office calls every now and then for good measure to either change orders or ask some silly question about a VGP documentation issue.

We'll all be glad when the water goes down!
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