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South Jersey

September 12, 1999

Skipper set to bring battleship home

CHRIS LaCHALL/Courier-Post

Capt. Kaare L. Ogaard Jr., skipper of the Sea Victory, stands by the tug in Seattle. It will tow the USS New Jersey from Bremerton, Wash., to Philadelphia.


By BOB INGLE
Gannett State Bureau


SEATTLE - The determined man responsible for towing the battleship New Jersey safely to Philadelphia - resting place before the "Big J" begins a new career in its namesake state as a floating museum - says only one thing will get him off schedule: a hurricane in the Caribbean or Atlantic.

"If that happens, we stop right there. That's the end of forward progress. We're not going to take any chances whatsoever," said Capt. Kaare L. Ogaard Jr., who has gone through five hurricanes at sea. "The first warning you get is this humongous swell. The swell builds as it approaches. Then it's time to get out of there."

Barring that, the biggest challenge after leaving Bremerton, Wash., today will be going through the Panama Canal in October.

"That's going to be most trying. It's hot and muggy, and there is a lot of rigging we have to do. We have to disconnect and reconnect. Then we disconnect and reconnect some more," Ogaard said.

A slim man with short, salt-and-pepper hair and an easygoing, friendly manner, Ogaard, 58, took to the ocean at 16 on his family's scallop boats based in New England. The next year he joined the Navy because "my father thought I needed some discipline." His first assignment out of boot camp was the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

After submarine service, he came to the Pacific Northwest on a scallop boat en route to Alaska. When scallop fishing dried up, he became a tug crewman in 1970.

Lately, he's been getting some big assignments. The skipper just returned from towing a former Navy aircraft carrier to Texas, and he was the man in charge when New Jersey's sister battleship, the Missouri, was towed to Hawaii. Like the New Jersey, the "Mighty Mo" was a part of the mothball fleet in Bremerton, Wash.

It doesn't bother Ogaard that his 1,200 ton, 149-foot tug, the Sea Victory, will be attached to a ship 40 times its weight and about six times its length by only a small (2 3/4-inch) steel cable.

The worst that can happen, he said, is that the cable breaks and there are backup plans for that. There are also ways to decrease the chance of problems.

Across the back of the Sea Victory is 180 feet of chain, each link weighing about 100 pounds. Sections of the chain will be used to sink the cable more than 100 feet so that it acts as a shock absorber. When waves pull the tug and the ship further apart, the line will rise to absorb the tension, which lessens the chance of the cable being damaged.

Life on board is routine and many times boring. Ogaard and his officers, First Mate Terry Jacobsen and Second Mate Mike Poirier, each stand an eight-hour watch in the wheelhouse where the navigation and steering are done.

When the ship's eight-man crew isn't on duty, each has his own way of dealing with the tedium of traveling 5,800 miles at 7 mph. The captain jumps rope to exercise. All of the crew read.

"Anything we can get our hands on," Jacobsen said. "It becomes like a mobile therapy facility. We have a veritable treasure trove of information. Then we talk amongst each other about what we've read. We share valuable tidbits."

The crew can also keep in touch with family and friends on shore by satellite phone.

The tug, which will mostly travel about 30 miles off the coast, carries 20,000 gallons of potable water and has a system that makes seawater drinkable.

Do they eat well? "Too well," said Ogaard, who confessed that choosing the tug's cook is a key decision. On this journey, the man under the chef's hat is a retired Navy cook who served up vittles for the top brass during his career.

The company learned its lesson about cooks 10 years ago.

"In '89 ... the company was hiring people in off the streets," remembered Ogaard. "It took us two years to weed the bad ones out."

When asked why anyone would want a job that requires being away months at a time, the officers said it was in their blood and their family trees.

"Most of us are descendants of merchant marine officers or fishermen," said Jacobsen. "For the most part, you meet people whose father did this and their father's father did this; not necessarily towing, but something to do with the sea."

Besides good pay, there are other rewards in this work. Ogaard enjoys the sunrises and sunsets that can't be seen anywhere else. Jacobsen loves the clean air that city dwellers can only dream about. And Poirier likes the marine life encountered along the way, especially the seabirds and whales. "Sometimes they come clear up out of the water."

As long as there have been men who go to sea, there have been women who waited for them. The Sea Victory's officers' wives come from mariner families and understand the life. The only time Ogaard's wife was upset about a trip was when it kept him away 10 months. "She told me not to do that again."

Crowley Marine Services' crews generally work six months a year. For every day at sea, they get a paid day off.

Jacobsen has a new daughter and spends his time being daddy when he's off the decks. Ogaard is working at being a better golfer. Poirier putters around his house. None takes any boat rides when they're off the job.

USS New Jersey Home Page



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