Tugging on a Heartstring|
Life on a Family Tugboat on the Chesapeake Bay
E. V. Lambert
East Wind Publishing Services, 157pp, $9.95
Tugging on a Heartstring: The Sequel
Marine Techniques Publishing, 97 pp, $10.95
These two spare little books present a world that few of us will ever experience, the huge, sometimes brutal world of commercial tugging. We may admire the shape or the line of a classic tug from the shore or appreciate the tingle in the pads of our feet from the deep throbbing rumble of impossibly powerful engines, but the routine of daily life aboard is what E.V. Lambert vividly shares.
In 1972, when she was just 13, her parents left the family farm in the hands of a tenant, bought the tug, Rose, a 1906 converted steamer and went into business hauling and pushing barges up and down the eastern seaboard. Six daughters rotated as crew, along with Zeke "a tent of yellow oil skins" and other assorted male crew. Debbie, alias Mom (later to become the first licensed female tugboat operator), the ship's cat, Bilbo and the family dog, Toto filled out the team. Papa was very much the captain. Emily (E.V.) and Alison, her nearest sister in age shared duties for most of their teen years, working on the boat during the summers and (boarding) school vacations.
Everyone on board worked six hours on, six hours off. Emily's watches were midnight to six and noon to six. Older sister, Suzannah was a more than acceptable cook, the two younger girls were deckhands and, boy, did they haul some hawsers. The tug became a popular fixture in her home waters which may have inspired Papa to rename her the Babe. "We want to name 'er something for us," he explained, possibly tongue in cheek.
The years of riding through storms that raised 8-foot seas in the open waters of the Chesapeake and through the fog and the 'skeeters of the Ditch, became a treasure trove of family stories and they made a healthy living in the bargain. It isn't hard to imagine how dull those off months at school must have been and the author gives them little space. (The reader wants to get back the boat as much as she does.) "Anticipating boarding school was like waiting for a ship's wake to hit and with too much time to worry about it." Besides, taking snuff and enjoying the end of watch beer was frowned upon at the Quaker school.
The first book ends when Papa Lambert sells Babe. It's a shock to the reader as well as the girls. We all want the adventure to go on forever. The Sequel, published two years later, resumes with a new, bigger and more powerful tug, a 1945 DPL class. The Nanticoke had many amenities especially appreciated by young women, like fans, private spaces and a roomy, modern galley--although the hawsers are even bigger and heavier. At this point in the voyage, author Emily is 16. The girls continued heave to with enthusiasm. Slightly older sister, Alison became the second licensed Able Bodied seawoman out of Norfolk. Mom was the first and Emily was the third.)
All was not roses aboard the Nanticoke, however. An on-board accident that tore the skin off Emily's hip and thigh laid her up in hospital for months. Though not referenced, it seems to have been the beginning of the end of the family's tugging career. After recovering, the author went to nursing school and eventually Papa sold the boat-- claiming that he and Mama missed the farm. Emily tried another type of life on the water, signing on with an ocean going oil tanker, but found that the military-type hierarchy did not constitute family.
As a writer, Lambert often startles the reader with the aptness of her similes, (she describes her arms as feeling like "old celery" after hauling a nettle-infested line) the keen-ness of her observations and the immediacy of her description. Her enthusiasm for life aboard is infectious. The books are written as if they happened yesterday complete with lively dialog that makes one wonder how she could remember or even imagine conversations that happened thirty years ago. But, I think Lambert was a writer before she was a tugboat crew member.
The books are available from Amazon and at the author's website: www.tuggingonaheartstring.com