Let me frighten you with a seemingly unbelievable but true story of a nightmare journey. 

Let’s start with how this voyage from hell ends. After taking a sketchy job on the worst boat for the worst owner to ever darken the towing industry (names witheld), the mate asked for his paycheck. The owner said he’d get around to paying the mate when he had the money to cut the check. The mate got suckered.

The unlucky mate's agonizing journey began when he got a call from a desperate owner who promised him big bucks and a free ride to the boat. When he arrived at the boat the horror show began.

The boat looked as though a Texas tornado had hit it. Windows were broken or missing, eck lights, life rings and handrails were broken off or missing, and garbage, paint cans and oil buckets were stacked high. There was no running water. When the crew ran out of fresh water, supposedly they filled the tank from the river close to where the heads dumped directly overboard. The galley and refrigerator had fuzzy green mold. Best of all, the mate's bunk room was already occupied by the so-called master’s girlfriend’s luggage.

In the engine room the bilges had enough oil in them to deep fry a large dog. Deckplates were gone and the few that were left were oil rinks. The stuffing boxes were leaking. Bilge pumps were mostly running and putting oil overboard now and then. Electrical panels were open with bare wires. Topside, a wire from the stern bitts held a bent rudder. Unsurprisingly, the steering was sketchy. Fuel was transferred using a garden-type hose with a leaky and wheezing pump. 

Why didn’t the mate run for his life? Maybe he was an optimist. 

The port engine constantly overheated and died about every 10 minutes. Eventually the engine threw a rod, but luckily the crew managed to put the fire out with an expired extinguisher. The starboard engine was on life support, spewing lube oil at a such a rate that they had to top it off every 15 minutes. Despite all this, the owner insisted the vessel keep going. 

Underway the towboat bounced down the river like a ping pong ball from bank to bank. It seemed that the other supposedly licensed crewman onboard had a skill deficiency. In total, the vessel ran aground some five or six times, ripping up the gear, boat and barge in the midst of heavy traffic on the river. A one whistle pass was a crapshoot.

The mate confronted the “master” and pointed out that they needed to report these problems to the Coast Guard or they could lose their licenses. The master replied that he wasn’t worried because he had already lost his license. The final blow was when the vessel ran out of fuel and they had to coast to the bank.

You can tell a lot about the safety of a boat and crew, as well as the owner's commitment, in the first few minutes you walk around a vessel. I’d guess the boat in this story didn't have a USCG Safety Exam decal.

The mate should have seen this nightmare coming. Don’t take the job or the watch if it seems unsafe, because it’s your life and your license if you’re made to work on junk even half this bad. Capt. Smitty once told me: “You can get another job, but you can’t get another license.” 

Finally, if you insist on working in this kind of situation, get paid in cash up front and don’t drink the water.

I pulled this true horror story from a sworn source. I remain in shock.

Sail safe!

A collection of stories from guest authors.