Working Harbor

Crane Delivery: Shanghai to New York

It was an impressive sight, as the four giant ship-to-shore cranes appeared on the Horizon.


On April 20th, the Heavy Load Carrier 'Zhen Hua 20' arrived in New York. She had departed Shanghai on February 15th -- that's 66 days at sea -- traveling at an average speed of just 8 knots. 


The four cranes on deck were built by ZPMC in China for the Maersk Terminal at Port Elizabeth in New Jersey.


Many modern heavy load carriers are constructed with the wheelhouse forward of the cargo area for unobstructed views. On this ship, a box is mounted on the bow for the the look-out.


A clearview screen ensures a good view in any weather. This rotary wiper is installed in the window and houses an electric motor mounted in the center, which spins a glass disk inside the circular metal frame at high speed. Rain, sleet, and sea spray get dispersed immediately upon contact by centrifugal force.


Anchor was dropped in Gravesend Bay to reconfigure the total height in order to transit under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the Bayonne Bridge.


With the booms lowered the total height was 213 feet. Three Moran tugboats assisted as she sailed through the Narrows into New York Harbor.


The iconic Manhattan skyline always makes for a nice backdrop!


One World Trade Center is currently the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.


Stability calculations had to be exact in order to extend the booms this far from her port side.


The recently raised Bayonne Bridge was transited at low tide, allowing some extra room to pass underneath. 


Tight quarters, but she made it!



A massive water salute erupted in New York Harbor, as the newest FDNY fireboat arrived just after 3pm today. She is named after Firefighter William M. Feehan who died in the 9/11 attacks. The name plates with red letters crafted from I-beam steel collected at ground zero are displayed on each side of the wheelhouse. 

Her 66-foot aluminum hull houses three C-18 Caterpillar engines for propulsion, delivering 1150HP each. Another 450HP Caterpillar C-9 engine drives the water pumps, and for additional pumping power, one of the main C-18 engines can be assigned to the main water canon. She delivers up to 7,000 gallons of seawater per minute and foam and purple-K additives are also on board if needed.

Her crew of five firemen consists of a pilot, an engineer, an officer and two deckhands -- safely housed inside the positive-pressure CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives) filtration system equipped bridge.

The $4.7-million medium-sized fast-response boat built by MetalCraft Marine in Kingston, Canada will be stationed at MARINE 6 in the East River, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Tugboat Glamour Shots at the Great North River Race

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would call a tugboat beautiful.

In a harbor full of tall-masted schooners on sunset cruises, custom-built sailboats, and sleek mega-yachts, tugboats are almost invisible, blending into the black and gunmetal gray backgrounds of industrial ports or the barges they tow. The tires that ring their hulls as fenders are reminiscent of mucky Hudson tidal flats where these rubbery doughnuts often come to rest. And it seems a wonder that any vessel with its bow seemingly cut off — like push-boat tugs — can even move water at all.

But when you finally get up close to these workhorses of the harbor, it’s easy to gain an appreciation for their individuality.

Maybe that’s easier when you’re observing them with Will Van Dorp, who runs the blog tugster (see the New York Times profile here) and knows most of the tugboats in the Great North River Tugboat Race by name.

“There’s Patricia,” he says, pointing to a light-gray, three-deck push-boat at the far end of a crowded field of some 20 tugs. Van Dorp has blogged about Patricia before. The first time was when he saw her out the window of a MetroNorth train and recognized her as a new kid on the block.

Almost all of the race entrants have been tagged on tugster at some point, usually observed from one of Van Dorp’s key vistas like the north end of Staten Island, where tugs thread huge barges through the Kill Van Kull.

As we weave through the race field for photos, I start to understand the appeal of tug-spotting.

The Robert E. McAllister is a big red fire engine with its high bow and long tail. The Eric R. Thornton is a hunter-green rain boot. Buchanan 12 is a three-tiered white layer cake with blue and red icing.

The tugs are also windows into how industrial the Port of New York still is. They move barges carrying gravel, salt, crude oil, grain, metals, and dozens of other commodities. Many of them bear the names of companies that started in New York Harbor in the late 19th century — Moran and McAllister, for instance — that in some cases still employ several generations of family members.

Horns blast to signal the race start, and the tugs nose up to the invisible line jutting west off of Pier I. When the countdown ends, they rev into gear and push south with the tide down the river. They throw a foamy white bow wake that completes the workhorse analogy, giving them the wispy white hooves of clydesdales.

Van Dorp is shooting away, and the tugs are flexing for the camera. Some of them look as if they’ve just downed a can of spinach (yes, there was a spinach-eating contest on the pier as part of the festivities) and their rippling muscles are going to send bolts and steel panels flying into the water.

In the tugster post that immediately follows the race, each boat that makes it into a photo is named and tagged, so its participation is on its permanent tugster record. Van Dorp hasn’t expressly called any of the tugs beautiful today — but then again, he doesn’t have to. A blog brimming with tugboat glamour shots says it all.

America's Got Talent

“A James Bond style boat chase in New York Harbor” is what an America’s Got Talentproducer wanted to film as a way to introduce one of their contestants. Damone Rippyfrom Texas was to compete with his flyboard in front of judges Heidi Klum, Mel B, Howard Stern, and Howie Mandel.

We set up three boats for the TV show — A ‘good guy’ boat for Damone and a bunch of bikini-clad girls, a ‘bad guy’ boat for the villain chasing them, and a camera boat for the crew.

The three-hour shoot was edited into a 10-second high-action intro.

Check out Captain Ken ducking out of the shot while operating the throttle, Damone and the girls rehearsing scenes at the dock, and the cameraman framing up a shot:

Harbor School drills Man Over Board

Students of the New York Harbor School performed MOB, Fire, and Abandon-Ship drills as part of their Safety at Sea class. The USCG Aids to Navigation Team joint in the evolutions and practiced medical evacuations between vessels. Handheld flares and floating smoke signals were deployed in the ‘Bayridge Flats’, as part of the exercise.

Surveying the Five Gyres

Swirls of microplastics are undulating through five major ocean gyres — and the ‘Race For Water‘ plans to sail its MOD70 through each one of these.

These aren’t huge islands of trash. You don’t see bottles, fishing nets, and six-pack rings all bunched up and going for a ride around the Pacific. There’s not a big patch that turns up on satellite images, and you’re not likely to run into a lone mound of discarded tupperware on your Atlantic crossing, according to NOAA.

But there certainly are clumps of microplastics — tiny particles that are the breakdown product, through UV light and other environmental processes, of larger plastics — that get caught up in the inner circle of major ocean currents.

“Regardless of the exact size, mass, and location of these areas of concentration, man-made litter and debris do not belong in our oceans or waterways,” according to NOAA.

Race for Water says it will attempt to survey the island beaches caught up in the middle of these bands of pollution. These islands include Bermuda, Easter Island, Hawaii, and Tristan de Cunha — along with other remote islands that aren’t caught up in the trash-laden currents.

Drones are the main means of data collection. The images of island beaches they yield will be handed over to researchers at Duke University and Oregon State University for analysis.

There should also be plenty of observational data, too, as the six-member crew — all of them sailors, not scientists — will sail the 70-foot trimaran through the five major gyres on a year-long journey from Bordeaux and back.

Here are some photos of their New York stopover. The vessel is currently docked at Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City.

Harbor School adds Simulator

On Wednesday the New York Harbor School christened its new Bridge Simulator at the MAST Center on Governors Island.

Students now have the opportunity to hone their ship handling and navigation skills in the same high-tech virtual environment used by many professionals. The main TRANSAS bridge simulator system is set up in a separate room where five large flat-screen monitors line the walls providing a 160-degree view of the scenario. Four additional smaller stations are set up in an adjacent room, also complete with navigation charts, engine and rudder controls, and radar screens. All five stations are networked allowing, for example, a tanker, tugs and law enforcement vessels to simultaneously function within the same scenario.

Of course I had to try this out first-hand and selected a Coast Guard small boat, as it has similar handling parameters as the boats we operate here at New York Media Boat. Running north at 30 knots from Saint George towards lower Manhattan, the harbor looked strikingly familiar. The buoys, barges and skyline all appeared in perfect detail. I threw some hard turns for good measure and the boat reacted as expected. At times I forgot that I was standing on solid ground and even started feeling a bit nauseous, as we dialed the conditions up and encountered heavy seas heading for Buttermilk Channel.

What an excellent teaching tool to add to the already impressive curriculum Captain Aaron Singh and his team have put together for their students.

The $300,000 system was donated by the American Bureau of Shipping.

Bill Clinton: Props for Pearls

Former President Bill Clinton visited the New York Harbor School on Governors Island to get a closer look at the school’s oyster hatchery.

Each year the Billion Oyster Project grows over 10 million bivalves in the brackish waters around Manhattan, teaching students to collect scientific data, hands-on restoration, and stewardship. The project was founded by the New York Harbor School and is a Clinton Global Initiative commitment to action.

Clinton was greeted by the students and Captain Aaron Singh while boarding the school’s ‘Privateer’ vessel docked at Pier25 in Tribeca.

The NYPD Harbor Unit provided security as the ‘Privateer’ ferried the 42nd President of the United States past One World Trade Center and around The Battery to Governors Island.

Great North River Race

The tugs raced and pushed on the Hudson, and the crews had spinach eating, tattoo and line throwing contests.
Besides the regular harbor tugs, the ship that brought the biggest guns to the show was the US ARMY LT-803 Major General Anthony Wayne.

She took second in the race, but sure dominated the nose-to-nose pushing competition with her twin 11-foot diameter screws.

The Chief Warrant Officer closely monitored gauges in the engine room…

… as the skipper accepted our nose-to-nose challenge.

For additional write-ups of this event — and cool stuff in general — check these awesome blogs!
– Tugster 1 & Tugster 2
– WindAgainstCurrent

Rescue at South Street Seaport

On our 2pm Adventure Sightseeing Tour we were just off South Street Seaport when we spotted three people in the water near Pier 15. Although we had passengers on board, we felt compelled to assist. When we arrived, two men were in the water trying to keep an unconscious victim afloat. Apparently, he had been handling lines for a large vessel when a line snapped, knocking him into the water.

We threw a life-ring and float-line to the guys struggling to keep the victim’s face above the water, pulled them alongside our boat, and hailed the NYPD boat stationed below the Brooklyn Bridge. Other bystanders threw life-rings and lifejackets in the water to place beneath the victim.

The NYPD Scuba Unit arrived within moments and immediately deployed rescue swimmers, who pulled the victim onto New York Media Boat to assess injuries and administer oxygen. EMS and FDNY brought a backboard, stokes basket and stretcher and helped transfer him ashore and into a waiting ambulance. The whole response happened very quickly and was handled adeptly, with the victim ending up at Bellevue Hospital. He’s reported to be in stable condition.

We’re very thankful to our passengers for their patience while we assisted in this emergency, and as always impressed by the NYPD’s response and professionalism. They’re on the scene within minutes, even in the wee hours of the coldest days of the year — like this past New Year’s Eve, when a young guy drove his car into the chilly waters of the Morris Canal, or when a tugboat sank off the Long Island coast.

Finding Ourselves in Politico

It’s always fun to see yourself through someone else’s eyes — especially those of a well-known New York media reporter. Joe Pompeo at Capital New York (it’s the NY “bureau” of Politico) held me up to a giant mental mirror and for a second I almost didn’t recognize the reflection.

Who is this girl that lives in a “beachy two bedroom” and gets personally ferried across the Hudson to her job every morning by the Captain of New York Media Boat? Sounds spoiled. I don’t think we’d get on well.

Oh, wait … that’s … me.

Anyway, I take up a mere two lines in the piece. The story — rightly so — focuses on Bjoern’s ground-up construction of a niche media business. Pompeo nails every detail, from Bjoern’s early sailing experience and his training in journalism and marine science to a foray into yacht photography that grew into welcoming terrestrial and waterborne customers aboard.

Pompeo’s writing flows like a rising Hudson tide, and he captures Bjoern’s passion for his work, summed up in an awesome kicker: “This is pretty fantastic.”

I have to agree.

New Cranes for Port Newark

The Port Newark Container Terminal is increasing capacity by taking delivery of three ZMPC Super-Post-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes as part of their $500 million dollar expansion project.
After a 13-week journey from Shanghai, the Chinese heavy load carrier ‘Zhen Hua 10’ is delivering the cranes, requiring expert navigation by the Sandy Hook Pilots and Metro Pilots, while entering the port, passing under the Verrazano-Narrows and the Bayonne Bridge.

The USCG  established strict criteria in order to safely move the cargo into port:
— Visibility must be a minimum of 2 nautical miles
— Winds <20 Knots: 3 tugs are required / Winds <25 Knots: 4 tugs are required
— Daylight transit only
— Slack Water transit under the Bayonne Bridge
— Two Pilots onboard

The cranes will take about nine days to unload and three months to assemble. They can reach 22 rows of containers across the deck of a ship. The raising of the Bayonne Bridge and  acquisition of these cranes enable Port Newark to accommodate the new fleet of supercargo ships.

Mega-crane arrives New York

After a 6,000 mile tow, the ‘Left Coast Lifter’ mega-crane arrives in New York Harbor.

The 150-foot ocean going tug ‘Lauren Foss’, powered by twin diesels producing 8,200 horsepower, completed the move of the crane after leaving San Francisco less than six weeks ago. The voyage took them down the West Coast, through the Panama Canal and up the East Coast to New York.

The convoy of tug, barge, plus support vessel ‘Iver Foss’ passed under the Verrazano Bridge around 10 am this morning and is now docked in Bayonne, NJ.

The ‘Left Coast Lifter’ was previously used on the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge project and will now assist with construction on the Tappan Zee and New New York Bridge.

A Frozen Tappan Zee

Several days of below-freezing temperatures have brought the construction around the Tappan Zee Bridge to a standstill. No ferries are running, either — an odd sight for residents of Nyack and Tarrytown, the two towns connected by the bridge.

This morning, a colleague who lives in Nyack sent around a screenshot from a webcam that keeps watch on the construction of the New NY Bridge (it’s set to replace the 58-year-old Tappan Zee). She said the river isn’t frozen shore to shore and that there are breaks in the ice, but there’s no boat traffic at all. shows the 140-foot Coast Guard icebreaker Sturgeon Bay currently 21 nautical miles upriver, heading south at 10 knots. Check the web-cam around 2:45pm and you may catch them passing by.

My colleague also found this gem in a book from the Historical Society of the Nyacks. An old Ford Model T crosses the Hudson at this same location, between Nyack and Tarrytown, on a fully frozen river in 1920.

Custom Chart: Morris Canal

Here’s the latest intel on Morris Canal: A few months ago, Matt and I decided to create a custom map of the entrance to Liberty Landing Marina. Using the ‘Record Sonar’ Function on the Simrad Chart Plotter, we spent about 45 minutes running a north-south grid at clutch speed, followed by a few east-west passes for additional data points. The water level was three feet down from high tide.

After uploading the collected data, a contour map of the surveyed area was generated. Using Photoshop, I overlaid some additional satellite imagery plus elements from a NOAA raster chart to build the final image:

Looking at the composite, the edge of the channel is now clearly indicated by a 10-foot depth contour line, and a 20-foot deep hole is visible just north of C-dock — most likely created by the prop wash from the Little Lady when she docks at Warren Street.

Check back for part two of this project, as we plan to survey D-dock to the West End, merging all data for one complete chart.

On Assignment with the Sandy Hook Pilots

Over the summer, we spent a day at sea with the Sandy Hook Pilots on assignment for New Jersey Monthly. We watched them scale the Jacob’s ladders of giant oil tankers and container ships to steer these behemoths safely into port.

We’d ride with the launch back and forth between ships, picking up pilots and dropping them off. It was a gorgeous day, and could easily make you think the pilot’s life is for you. But change the setting to a freezing winter day with seas kicked up ahead of a nor’easter, and you start having second thoughts. The transfer from the launch to the ladder of a 1,000-foot container ship turns from a fun leap into one of life-or-death: it has to be timed precisely, lest you fall in the drink or get squeezed between two vessels.

That’s why Pilot personalities are the perfect blend of adventurous and competent. These guys have the responsibility of ensuring that billions of dollars’ worth of global trade arrives to final destinations in the ports of New York and New Jersey.

Check out the full Sandy Hook Pilots article and photo essay in the December issue ofNew Jersey Monthly — now on newsstands — or read it here at this link.

BOOM goes the DYNAMITE!!

At 07:36am building #877 was imploded on Governors Island to clear space for a new public park. We took New York Media Boat right up to the 1000ft USCG security perimeter for front row seats to the show. Besides us and Eric on the ‘Genesis‘, surprisingly few other boats were out to witness the implosion. ‘Adventure Sightseeing’ at it’s best!!

In the Washing Machine

It’s the middle of January — the phrases ‘Small Craft Advisory’ and ‘Gale Warning’ are part of today’s NOAA forecast. Looking out past the Statue of Liberty, I see whitecaps blowing off the wave’s crests and New York Harbor appears to boil. I’ve been wanting to put the foul weather gear through its paces so we gear up to face the choppy water. The kits consist of Henri Lloyd TP2 pants, Tretorn Skerry boots, Musto HPX jackets, Mustang PDFs with FastFind PLB & Icom VHF plus Gill offshore gloves and FOX motocross goggles. After turning on the GoPro I set course for The Narrows running at 20 knots and 30 degrees to the wind and waves. Good amounts of water are flying across the deck and the boat’s handling is unaffected by the conditions due to its deep V-hull.

The ‘Heavy Weather Operations Reference Manual’ reads: ‘Wind itself up to 70 mph has little dangerous effect on the RIB (unless airborne)’. After forty-five adventurous minutes, we’re still dry and warm and return to the dock with a new level of respect for choppy harbor waves.

Sewage Spill Turns Attention to Hudson Plumbing

Most people are horrified by the thought of three millions of gallons of raw sewage spewing into the Hudson River.

Not Captain John Lipscomb of Hudson Riverkeeper.

“Accidents like this come and go,” he told me Friday on the phone from his boat docked on the Hudson in Ossining, N.Y., though he would have been out sampling had it not been raining. “But the chronic releases are happening all the time.”

The spill at a Westchester water treatment plant threatened to cancel Saturday’s Ironman triathlon, and environmental advocates seized the opportunity to shine a light on the regular dumping of raw sewage into New York City waterways.

“The issue for the triathletes isn’t what’s happened in Westchester, but what’s happening in the harbor,” given heavy rains on Friday, says Lipscomb, who has been Captain of Riverkeeper’s research vessel for 12 years. “From our data, we can see that chronic releases are much more significant than accidents.”

Fourteen wastewater treatment plants in New York City, and a handful in northern New Jersey, collect and filter the excess from sinks and streets alike. Much of the metropolitan area is on a combined sewer system, where the pipes that carry refuse from toilets eventually meet with those funneling away rainwater. All of it is scrubbed before being discharged back into local waterways.

Normally, the system works fine, Lipscomb says, and major accidents like the Westchester spill are rare – although an accident at a plant in Harlem poured hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Hudson last summer.

But after a decent rain, the combined sewer system can get overwhelmed, opening valves that send a mix of sewer and rain runoff sloshing into natural waterways.

Engineers say it’s the more palatable alternative to having raw sewage bubble up in residents’ toilets.

Every year, about 28 billion gallons of this “grey” water flow from 460 outfall sites around the city, with an additional 23 billion gallons from more than 200 sites in New Jersey, according to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Not all of that is concentrated sewage. Since it’s diluted by rainwater, about 20% of the mix comes from household drains, Lipscomb says. Still, that amounts to hundreds of millions of gallons of straight sewage leaking into local waters during each of the the Hudson River area’s average 50 storm events per year.

Riverkeeper has been detecting these discharges during monthly sampling. Below deck in their research vessel is an oven-sized incubator that reveals within 24 hours the level of Enterococcus in water samples.

Few in this bacteria genus are harmful; they’re present in the guts of most species, including humans. But abnormally high levels indicate that untreated sewage has found its way into the water.

Lipscomb’s complaint is that residents have no idea when levels exceed those considered safe for recreation.

But that’s changing. On Thursday, the same day as the Westchester spill, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, which will require public notification of all raw sewage spills, even those permitted during normal rainfall events.

“It’s almost like a setup,” Lipscomb says. “I was out collecting samples during the event and got an email saying the governor had signed the legislation.”

He says the city has taken other steps to alleviating the problem, like building additional rain gardens and diminishing the amount of impervious surfaces to lessen the volume of water hitting the sewers. It’s less costly than revamping the wastewater treatment infrastructure, which would run a multi-billion-dollar tab.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection says it, too, has been trying to find a reasonable solution to its combined sewer outfall issues. DEP spokesperson Larry Ragonese told me the agency has added more control measures, such as filters, to 83% of its outfalls, and another 13% are under construction.

Over the past decade, about a quarter of combined sewers in the state have also been tied into other systems that don’t mix sewage and rainfall, Ragonese said.

And some municipalities have been taken to task by the EPA to upgrade, including Jersey City and Perth Amboy, which will spend $52 million and $5.4 million, respectively, on updating their systems as a result of settlements with the agency.

Ragonese says the DEP expects to release an updated plan for its combined sewer permitting process within the year – something Debbie Mans, executive director of NY/NJ Baykeeper, says is a long time coming. Her group, along with the Hackensack Riverkeeper, filed suit last year against the DEP over its slow progress.

As intimidating as regular sewage spills sound, their actual health impact is much harder to pin down. Though health officials have established safe exposure limits, swimming in places exceeding those thresholds doesn’t guarantee an infection.

Nor is there any sure-fire way to trace an illness – with water-borne disease, it can be anything from an ear infection to dysentery — to a specific exposure.

“If you swim in contaminated water and get sick 24 hours later, you don’t know if it’s from your salad, the food at the deli, or your dog,” Lipscomb said. “It’s hard to source it.”

The lack of hard evidence doesn’t mean he’d take his chances. When asked if the Ironman challenge should have gone on, as it did on Saturday, Lipscomb said it probably wasn’t the best idea – but not because of the Westchester discharge.

It was Friday’s rains, he said, that would have kept him on dry land.