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South Jersey

Monday, September 24, 2001
For tugboat operators, long hours and tough tasks are part of the life they love

By KIM MAIALETTI
Courier-Post Staff
CAMDEN

Tugboat operators - they're never happy, always complain and can tell the best stories in the world.

So says Guy Del Greco, captain of the Z-One, one of four tugboats that tenderly guided the battleship USS New Jersey upriver and into its final berth Sunday morning. While the highly decorated battleship has become a rallying point for many, the tug operators approached the move as just another day on the river.

Following his father's lead, Del Greco, 37, has been working on tugs for 19 years.

"My father used to take me to work in the summertime when I was not in school to try and keep me out of trouble," said Del Greco, taking a drag on a Newport Light. "I love it. It was my whole life. It's all I know."

Built in 1996, the Z-One is the most modern of the tugs in the fleet that helped maneuver the battleship Sunday. The Z- One is powered by two diesel engines that generate a total of 4,200 horsepower.

The smaller tugs, named James and Eric, have 3,000- horsepower engines, while Theresa runs on 2,250 horsepower. The fleet is owned by McAllister Towing of Camden.

Tugboats work by attaching rope lines to a larger vessel and pushing and pulling it through a channel.

Each tug has four crew members, including a captain, deckhand, engineer and mate.

The life of a tugboat crew isn't easy.

Crew members work weeklong shifts, getting a break every other week.

For the week they're on, the boat becomes their home.

"Sometimes I don't see my wife and two kids for a week straight," Del Greco said. "But if I had a 9-to-5 job, I'd probably be divorced in a year."

It's a dangerous job, too.

If someone is in the way when a line breaks, it will snap back at them at 900 feet per second and cut right through them, Del Greco said.

Todd Rich, 35, of Norfolk, Va., got his start on tugs by answering a want ad for a deckhand. He had traveled from California to Virginia with a friend and needed money to get home.

That was 13 years ago.

"It seemed like kind of an adventure to me," said Rich, the engineer on Z-One. "I've never done anything else since."

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