Pirates, Pluck, Providence

Capt. Tolley is a Columbia River Bar Pilot who has circled the globe many times in 24 years at sea—in the Navy under combat, as a merchant mariner on tramp steamers, even as master of a wooden schooner caught in a storm with four feet of water in the bilge.

Tolley has many great sea stories. Some of the most intriguing and adventurous are shared here. Through them all, he says, he has been guided by seat-of-the-pants training, beginning at MMA, and a willingness to fight for what’s right and “think outside the box…”

It’s May 29, 2018,

and I’m piloting an outbound, 738-foot Panamax bulk carrier loaded with 60,000 tons of soybeans, approaching the Columbia River Bar. The channel is dredged to 43 feet, the ship draws 43 feet and we have 3 feet of water under her keel.

We’re coming up, full-ahead, sea speed, at Buoy 21 when there’s a sudden quiet instead of the rumble of the engine. I look down and see we’re at 40, then 35 RPMs.

I ask the captain, “You gonna call the chief? What’s going on?”

“Captain, we need to know now when we’re going to have RPMs back up.”

He calls the chief and learns they’ve lost jacket water cooling, and so the engine is overheating.

“OK, Captain.” I stay as calm and collected as I can muster. “Here’s what we’re going to do…”

We’re very, very heavy, very deep, and we’ve got a lot of current. If we drop and lose an anchor, we’ve got a big problem. I order the starboard anchor lowered a half a shackle into the water and make her ready for letting go, hoping to anchor just outside the channel in deeper water, trying to slow down the vessel using her rudder and dragging the screw through the water.

We’re very, very heavy, very deep, and we have a lot of current. If we drop and lose an anchor, we’ve got a big problem.

“Captain, let go three shackles…the anchor should be bouncing off the bottom…now let’s veer out to 10 shackles.” The bow rounds up into the current, but we drag across the channel with the ebb current at 2.5 knots toward the jetty at Buoy 11.

...Read More
  • Doug Herling
    Leadership DefinedOne of the top attributes cited about MMA graduates is that they know how to lead others toward objectives in vastly different situations.
    ...Read More
  • Portland Pros
    Portland ProsJust about any direction you steer in Portland seaport you’re likely to meet MMA alumni.
    ...Read More