Captain Rich Naruszewicz, MARY WHALEN crew member: Oral History

Captain Rich Naruszewicz started his career in 1978 as a deckhand. He worked on the MARY A. WHALEN for three years in the early 90s and now is a captain of one of the few remaining oil tankers in the New York Harbor the Chandra B. He was interviewed by PortSide NewYork's Jenny Kane in 2014.  His oral history is one of several collected for Red Hook WaterStories

Captain Rich Naruszewicz:

Synopsis of Interview
(times are approximate, text is not word-for-word but provides a gist of the audio recording)

I work in NY Harbor — will be my 36th year. Right now I’m a captain on an oil tanker that refuels pretty much anything with diesel fuel. I started in 1978 entry level, as ordinary seaman, deckhand, and now I’m a captain.

JK: Did you come up thru the hawsepipe?

RN: 1978 — 36 years working Everything I did, i did on my own, through the hawsepipe. Studying the books and going to take the coast guard exam on my own.

(1:20) I started for Texaco, as a general utility man, scraping and painting the boats, it was a summer job, and then one year, went to the Maryland School of Seamanship and right from there was shipped out, deep sea, we went all over Europe, the far east, the Mediterranean, and then when I came back, I got a full time job with Texaco. It was a temporary job that lasted 22 years.

(2:00) then I was captain on the first high speed catamaran ferry in NY harbor, and now I’m captain on an oil tanker and I’m due to be captain on a new tanker due to be launched in July 2015.

(2:20) born in Bayonne, the peninsula of industry… oil terminals — everything that can be shipped on the water comes through Bayonne.

(3:00) — talking about merchant marines, old timers, getting along with crew, NY harbor during the war — everything shipped out of Bayonne and Brooklyn. main shipping points for the military —bandages, bombs, bullets, hardware and personnel.

(6:00) Seafarers International — they ran the school. 4th ave and 20th St. they gave us a physical and I was 4 lbs overweight and they said come back in a week if I lose 4 lbs, and I had a can a tunafish all week and I went back and they gave me a date to report.

(6:50) My first job was overseas — then i worked for a small company that did everything in Baltimore Harbor and then I got an opportunity to apply for a job in NY and when I applied for it, they told me to go home and pack and be back in 2 hours and I didn’t have a car so I ran home and threw everything into a pillowcase and ran all the way back — temporary job that last 22 years.

(7:30) I took the early retirement — post VALDEZ, — they got rid of things that moved oil on water. Terrible liability to move oil on water. Couldn’t get insurance

(8:15) I got a job with Eklof Marine —part time - and they sent me to the MARY WHALEN and we moved black oil all through NY harbor — heavy #6 delivered black oil — heavy black oil basically all over NY harbor. We refueled ships, we went in between terminals, basically everywhere in NY harbor that could be delivered heavy black oil.

(8:50) [explaining the oils — heavy bunker oil, #6, heavy, heavy black oil used in the boilers of ships. #4 oil is a mixture of heavy black and diesel mixed to a ratio, #2 is straight diesel - marine gas oil]

(9:10) “The MARY WHALEN carried heavy #6 oil and once in awhile #6.

After the VALDEZ, 1989, the fed gov and coast guard came out with OPA 90 no more single hull throughout US —by 2014. Anything would have to be scrapped. US and city moving away from heavy black oil. Phased it out. Slowed down work for this boat.

(11:10) — [first time coming on to the MARY WHALEN]

(11:20) shore parkway in Brooklyn. Had to meet the boat there. Taking heavy black oil going to Bayside basically it’s the same - no matter what kind of oil you pump, just ..different pipe alignments…

(11:50) Loaded for ship... then we loaded for another terminal in Brooklyn.

This was a unique boat because it could get out of all the shallow draft creeks and terminals. Get in, pump it off, get out. Lot of it is what you call a tide job— you came in on high water and you left on high water.

I was a tanker man, —I was in charge of the cargo - loading and discharging of all the cargo safely. Different kind of pipes

JK who was on crew?
RN There was a shortage of people — shifting people around all the time. in NY Harbor. I was on here permanently 7 days on 7 days off.

Captain, mate, 2 tanker man, engineer and asst engineer.

My cabin was on the the right when you came onto the boat.

Local 333 of the ILA. was mainly NY Harbor.

(14:00) ...16 Union 333 and SIU I joined seafarers international was deep sea, tankers, military ships — SIU tugs, …Local 333 was NY harbor, tugs and barges

Harbor strike of 88 — wages went down, …. they ran into a lot of problems. so a lot of people left , never came back so now you had to look for new people that wanted to work, do the job.
[rules and regulations]…. basically coming out every 6 months… wages went down, unskilled labor , a lot of problems, people left the industry. Had to look for new people — finding good skilled qualified people who wants to work... skill and know-how. One incident could shut down a company.

(15:10) It’s still a problem today —finding qualified people who want to work in the industry. It takes a lot to be away for a week at a time…need skill and know-how. Need a good labor pool.

(16:00) Coast guard regulations keep changing… coastguard rules and regs effect everyone all the way up

OS/ ordinary seamen, AB able-bodied seaman, mate - depends where you want to go — work on deck… engineer... you’re in charge of all loading /discharging. AB rating shows time on the water.

(17:00) [Tankerman’s job] — you’re in charge of all the loading and discharging of the oil.. that’s your game., your domain. AB means you have time on deck that you have experience, at least 3 years, AB rating shows time on the water and could pass a coast guard exam.

(17:50) This boat was a lot different from other boats because this was a bell boat. Any kind of maneuver — from full ahead to full astern,to slow ahead engine had to shut down, reverse the cam and go back. All done through bell system. My room was like being in a boxing ring — so you learned what everything meant.

All stop/ dead slow ahead /full ahead-- one long , 2 or 3 short bells

(19:15) Oh yeah, I had a lot of good experiences on the MARY WHALEN. We had a lot of good Captains.

(19:40) Some captains — taught you a lot— if you wanted to move up, every opportunity was there. If someone wanted to learn... the educational part of it was non stop. If you want to move up, you could learn all you wanted.

Typical day: get up for watch, find out where you were going, what you would load…when you would get to berth.

(20:20)... some days only maintenance. Catch up. Packing the valves. Everything had to be maintained because it was always constantly working.

(21:01) 6 hours on, 6 hours off. I had the 12-6 watch midnight to 6 pm then noon to 6pm—- get up 20 minutes before your watch, grab coffee , talk to other tanker man…. this tank is done…the dock man wants this.. We loaded by gauges or by certain mark on the ladder inside the tank itself. Safe fill mark on the tank... visually see it and bring it up to a certain height.

(22:20) When we finished discharging, it would be completely empty and we would take the boat to where it was going to get another load.

(22:30) 11’ was our draft, 1 to 2 of freeboard — that’s the deck to the waterline.

...anything in NY harbor, creek work, bunkering work, transferring work — transferring fuel from one barge to another.

We’d go up the Hudson, Rennsaleer . Any place that took black oil.

(23:49) Being stuck in the ice. bear mountain bridge— coast guard had to come break us out.

Bad ice every few years…

(20:40) During trips — Maintenance, checking valves, paperwork, cup of coffee. We all cooked, peeled the potatoes, throw the roast in the oven. Whatever I knew how to cook. We got groceries wherever we could. Newtown Creek. In the Gowanus, we’d go to the Pathmark.

(25:50) Just tie up—When you went to the Pathmark, you got a bow line off the bow, and there was no place to put the stern line so what we would do is take the stern line and go ashore and if there was a tractor trailer, we’d go underneath and put the line under the back axle.

(26.32) One time, there was not tractor trailer …. lady took off the car was gone but the bumper was still there.

(26:40) You know, just running in, get what you can boom, boom boom, make the tide and get out.

(27: 29) Lot of people in NY harbor just don’t know how this whole harbor functions…. when people are sleeping , how many ships come in in the middle of the night, discharge cargo and leave, how many get re-fueled, go into ship yard, how many come into a anchor…all different kinds of cargo .

A lot of people really don’t know its a 24/7/365 operation that goes on in this harbor. Sometimes you need a traffic cop…. with all the ships that go into the Kill van Kull - dredges, the lubricants, hundreds of different lubricant that each ship could takes….take on supplies, oill..ship comes in — everyones like a bunch of ants… ship is on a timetable. take on water, …supplies, crew getting on/off. … it’s a constantly, constantly constantly moving.

Everyday is different

(29:00) Always different, every day... 7 days on, 7 days off. I’ll be the captain on the new tanker in July…

(30:00) [old timers talking] —do the right thing. Always interesting. People came from everywhere. lot of guys came from Florida, another from Michigan, from upstate . Every week, they would show up.

Where were you picked up?
RN All over -anywhere in New York Harbor. any terminal —Bayside Oil at Smith st.— Sackett St, Smith, the Newtown Creek, Staten Island... You could get picked up anywhere in NY harbor.

(30:55) ...this one re-fueled convoys…during WWII, Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm..this ship always moved.

When I worked with Texaco — got down to Texas, there was no relief.. 2 weeks on , 2 weeks off - had to stay an extra week..

(32.50) I’ve never missed a crew change, I have never been late, never missed a days work in 17 years

I’m on time every time. Big plus for the company… one less headache.

(33:42) Worked on the MW-90-93 GOWANUS TRADER, the JOHN TABELING, the MARY WHALEN... They had a whole slew of them. Big tanker fleet and tug boat fleet. You were a real tanker man.

These were the real workhorses of the company. On a tanker that moved.

Three yeas on the MARY WHALEN

...the crew —high caliber personalities, including my own.

(35:30) This boat was very comfortable. Now you have a third of what you have now. A good running boat. All the tankers were the same. It’s a one of kind.. they don’t make these any more.

...there will only be 3 brand new double hulled tankers in NY Harbor.

The brass, the wood, it’s nautical history. The galley and the skylights. that's where everybody met, that was the meeting room of the boat. You don’t have that no more.

JK How did you sleep?
RN tough. ear plugs.. If you were hungover, it was no good.

(37:50) In the Maritime industry, you can stay entry level, or you can be a captain. It was a good learning experience …you could learn a lot.

(38:50) [family life] ...

Follow this link for a curated compendium of MARY A. WHALEN stories



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