set to bring battleship home
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.
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
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,"
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
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
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.
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