Tuesday, June 16, 2015

ColReg Rule 13!

The Rules of the Road pertaining to "overtaking vessels" got a work out last evening as the Polar Pioneer drew abeam Point Wilson, heading north to Alaska.

The wet tow of the Polar Pioneer was exiting Admiralty Inlet entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca, when all of a sudden there was a frenzy of activity involving overtaking or passing vessels. It was quite remarkable to witness!

Like motor vehicle laws, there is a set of International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea - known as ColRegs. ColRegs establish rules and regulations for operating vessels in a safe responsible manner, enabling mariners to have reasonable expectations about how other captains and crews will react in specific situations.

"ColReg Rule 13 governs overtaking situations and states that, "any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken." This rule applies to all vessels, not just power-driven vessels, as is the case in crossing and head-on situations. The rule does not require the overtaking vessel to maneuver in any particular manner, generally allowing an overtaking vessel to pass on either side of the overtaken vessel. However, care should be exercised by the overtaking vessel to maintain an appropriate distance off the overtaken vessel to prevent the effects of interaction, as well as to ensure that it is well clear of the overtaken vessel before any subsequent alteration of course ahead of the overtaken vessel.

"Furthermore, Rule 13(b) states that, "a vessel shall be deemed to be overtaking when coming up with another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft her beam," such that only that overtaken vessel's stern light and neither of its sidelights would be visible at night. Thus, there are clear tests that can be employed, which are intended to eliminate any doubt as to whether a vessel is overtaking or crossing. A vessel may employ the use of radar and automatic radar plotting aids to determine its relative position and angle of approach, as well as observe the lights of other vessels. Despite these efforts at providing a bright line test for determining one's status, there are certain factors, such as the failure to track a vessel on radar or the range at which lights may become visible and identified, which may lead to uncertainty.

"However, Rule 13(c) attempts to resolve any uncertainty as to the status of an overtaking vessel by stating that, "when a vessel is in any doubt as to whether she is overtaking another, she shall assume that this is the case and act accordingly." Finally, Rule 13(d) states that, "any subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall not make the overtaking vessel a crossing vessel within the meaning of these Rules or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is finally past and clear.

"Rule 13(d) is intended to resolve the starboard quarter approach problem. Whereas a vessel coming up on another vessel's port quarter would be the give-way vessel regardless of whether it is an overtaking or crossing situation, the same cannot be said for the starboard quarter approach, where the vessel coming up would be the give-way vessel in an overtaking situation and the stand-on vessel in a crossing situation."

"Finally, Rule 13(d) is intended to prevent such a shift in status by prohibiting an overtaking vessel, by virtue of a change in its position relative to the overtaken vessel, from becoming a crossing vessel once it is less than 22.5 degrees abaft of its beam or in such a position as to see its running light and masthead light(s) and not its stern light."

That's the long version of ColReg 13 concerning overtaking situations. The short version is much easier to digest:

The semi-submersible Transocean Polar Pioneer finally shoved off from Terminal 5 in Seattle Monday morning, immediately getting tangled up with anti-Shell (Shell-No) kayaks. There is much angst about Royal Dutch Shell ruining the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

She was pulled out by two Foss Maritime tugs, with a third Foss tug, Garth, in the "braking" position. Having covered only a few miles, the convoy went into a convulsion, captured by MarineTraffic AIS tracking.

For reasons unclear to the casual observer, the two lead Foss Tugs, switched the tow over to two Crowley tugs, the Ocean Wave and Ocean Wind, with the Garth Foss remaining in the rear "braking" position.

Finally the tow headed up the Salish Sea. I calculated they would pass me here in Port Townsend around 7 or 8 p.m. I have two view points to consider, Marrow Stone Island or Point Wilson. Having wasted a fifty mile round trip earlier in the day when I thought the tow would pass, not realizing the towline switch was the reason I sat empty handed, I elected to go out to Point Wilson.

Turned out I should have returned to Marrowstone Island. That's it to the right in this shot. I am just over 5 miles from the tow, a distance that could have been cut by more than half, had I returned to Marrowstone Point.

Rule 13 Madness

The shot distance finally decreased to about 2 miles by the time this frenetic "overtaking" - passing - situation took place, involving multiple vessels and tows. According to the AIS (Automatic Identification System) readings, "the tow," consisting of the Ocean Wave, Ocean Wind, Polar Pioneer, with  Garth Foss,

escorted by the 87 foot (26 meter) Marine Protector Coastal Patrol Boat USCG Blue Shark, making 5.6 knots (6.4 mph.).

The first overtaking situation occurred when Oceania Cruises "Regatta" enroute from Seattle to Alaska, making 12.4 knots (14.2 mph), caught up with the tow. In accordance with ColReg Rule 13, engaged in a port-starboard passing, passing on the left side of the tow.

As the Regatta cleared the tow, CMA CGM Shipping's "H S Chopin," making 19 knots (21.8 mph) caught up with the tow. According to her particulars, she is capable of flank speed to 21 knots (24.1 mph), which she did, forming an impressive "bone in her teeth," as she passes both the tow and the Regatta, on their respective left sides.

At the far side of the tow, we can barely make out another tug and barge, passing the tow port-starboard, the Seaspan King with her tow, heading to Vancouver B.C. Oh, yeah, just for good measure, the high speed catamaran Victoria Clipper, whizzed by all opposing traffic, heading for Seattle on her second round trip of the day.

All of this action took place in 10 to 15 minutes, just after 8 p.m.

Where Are They Now? 

In the middle of the night, the tow (Polar Pioneer) did yet another maneuver off Port Angeles, dropping off both the Puget Sound Pilot, and the Garth Foss. This afternoon (Tuesday), the tow, joined by Shell's Anchor Handling Tug Tor Viking II are clearing the Strait of Juan de Fuca, all heading toward Dutch Harbor.

The Regatta is well into her journey up the Inside Passage. The HS Chopin is heading for China, the Island Scout is alongside in Nanaimo, and the Seaspan King is alongside in Vancouver B.C.

Just another day on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

115th US Open at Chambers Bay

After years of preparation, practice rounds begin tomorrow for the 2015 115th US Open Championship golf tournament. The promotional poster is full of iconic elements surrounding the Companionship;  Olympic Mountains, Tacoma Narrows Bridges, Salish Sea (Puget Sound), BNSF mainline, and of course the fairways.

The locomotive, painted BNSF colors, is numbered "2015" with the "USGA" logo painted on the machine room doors.

Now before you get upset that this rail Blog continually derails on non-rail topics, I have aggregated some interesting titbits* about the course not reported on by the media, which golfers, non-golfers, and rail fans may find interesting!

The course was designed and built on a 350 acre site once occupied by a gravel mine and cement factory.

Once the decision to reclaim the industrial site, conversion to a golf course was planned with the intention of making it attractive for a US Open Championship.

Artifacts from the mine and factory were deliberately incorporated into site, adding an "industrial" feeling to the venue.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe runs along the western boundary of the course. In the video, note the "artifacts" on the golf course. Northern Pacific pioneered this route along the Sound, later granting track rights to the Great Northern and Union Pacific.

BNSF Chamber's Bay Bridge 14, the unique Strauss Vertical Lift Bridge I wrote about several years ago, is about a mile south of the course.

By the Numbers 

•  Field: 156 players.
•  Purse: TBA ($9 million in 2014).
•  Defending champion: Martin Kaymer.
•  Estimated 250,000 spectators.
•  2,000 media.
•  18,000 grandstand seats.
•  4,500 volunteers

•  Length: 7,648 yards (average)
•  Course will play between 7,200 and 7,600 yards each day
•  Par: 70 (36-34 or 35-35)
•  Cut: Top 60 and ties after 36 holes.
•  Playoff (if necessary): 18 holes on June 22

I've heard several reporters saying the golf course is on the ocean; it's not, it's the Salish Sea, a.k.a Puget Sound. With McNeil Island in the background, a ship, having loaded logs in Olympia, is outbound for Japan, whilst a BNSF freighter passes the golf course.

Public access to the course is unique in that public hiking trails abound surrounding the course. For security reasons, the trails are temporarily closed during the tournament.

And to provide protected access to the beach, a USD 3.8M pedestrian overpass was built in 2010, providing protection from the 60 or so trains per day. (The train video clip was shot from this structure.)

Installing this overpass gives beachcombers the first access to this stretch of beach in more than 100 years!

There are many "back stories" of folks around the course renting out rooms in their homes, some even their homes, camping space in back yards, and parking space on their property, to cash in on the limited space at the golf course.

More outrageously, renters near the course have been evicted, so that landlords can fill properties with out of townees looking for nearby accommodations!  American greed knows no limits!

One of the parking areas is 12 miles from University Place. Located in Puyallup, folk face a 30 minute shuttle bus commute, depending on local traffic.

The best news of all is that the region is in the midst of a mini-heat wave, so there should be some spectaculars suntans at the end of the week!

And most certainly a win-win for golf fans and rail fans!


•  US Open Spectator Information Guide (PDF 4MB)
•  Course Designer, award winning Robert Trent Jones II.
•  The reason so many folk are upset with the increase in Oil Unit Trains — often referred to as "Bomb Trains."
* Tidbit vs Titbit

Saturday, May 23, 2015


I am in the process of making an inventory of my late Dad's marine negative collection. Dad (Harry McDonald) was a well known "historian" here on the Puget Sound until his passing in the mid-80's. I will be listing the collection, along with several dozen 35mm original slides, on eBay. Watch this space!

I inherited a massive problem of cataloging his collection, hampered by two obstacles; his hand writing, and lack of documentation.

By and by I encountered a negative envelope cryptically marked "UFO May 1967 Alaska." As my Dad was not one who played "games" I dropped the negative into my scanner. Low and behold this image appeared. And there on the side, "UFO."

The more I got to studying it, it soon became clear from the rigging, that it was some sort of life saving device.

Turning to Google, within moments I discovered this "UFO" was, indeed, an Oil Platform Rescue Pod, a.k.a. capsule.

Furthermore, I found a fellow who had purchased a number of surplus pods, creating an unusual motel with them!

Rescue Pods or Capsules should not be confused with Free Fall Life Boats.   

Free Fall life boats are outfitted with a motor, allowing them movement, as  introduced to the "public" by Tom Hanks - Captain Phillips - on the Maersk Alabama.

The Rescue Pod was not powered; simply an escape mechanism from a platform emergency.

Now the photo my Dad took made sense. He was working for Foss, involved in towing drill jackets from Kaiser Steel Richmond California to newly developed oil finds in Cook Inlet. And this rescue pod was on a Foss barge, to be delivered to one of several drilling rigs being installed on the Middle Ground Shoal of Cook Inlet in 1964/1967.

Middle Ground Shoal Oil Field is in the Anchorage Basin, about 52 miles west-southwest of Anchorage, and located centrally in Cook Inlet.

Cook Inlet is probably one of the most difficult marine areas in the world in which to look for and develop oil reserves. Conditions, such as 25-35-ft tides, 6-8-knot tidal currents, strong winds, and pack ice make all phases of the operation extremely hazardous and tax the ingenuity of the men involved.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Row RO-RO your TOTE!

I had a dental appointment over in Seattle last Friday (May 15th) which requires riding the Washington State Ferry system across the Salish Sea, which, when I chat with my sister, I refer to as "the River," a throw-back to 25 years of living in Vancouver Washington, when reference was made to "this side of the river" or "that side of the river."

Whenever I catch the 11:55 a.m. ride to Edmond's, I always see the RO-RO Midnight Sun. That's because she is operated by Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE). Both she and her identical twin sister RO-RO North Star, provide a proven, reliable conveyer belt between Tacoma, Washington and Anchorage, Alaska, operating on a very disciplined schedule.

While two rail barge services run to Whittier, Alaska; one from Seattle, the other from Prince Rupert, TOTE caters to truck trailers and motor vehicles - from cars, campers, school buses, and motor homes - in an enclosed environment, free of salt water spray.

And quickly! Three day service between the two ports - which may become gnarly in the Winter. The Gulf of Alaska is very unforgiving. As a young man, I experienced a "blow" on the Gulf which increased our crossing of the Gulf from three days to seven! Motor vehicles can do the Alaska Highway route, such as that provided by Lynden.

As we learned in the Höegh Osaka incident, one unit of vehicle capacity is known as the CEU (Car Equivalent Unit.) Another method for estimating capacity is LL (Lane Length,) reasonable considering the wide range of motor vehicle lengths, from Mini Coopers to over-sized construction material loads.

The "official" specifications published by the shipbuilder, states the TOTE Orca Class as 600 FEU plus 200 automobiles.

•  TEU = Twenty foot Equivalent Unit
•  FEU = Forty foot Equivalent Unit
•  1 FEU equals about 25 metric tons (27 st)or 72 cubic meters (2,542 cu ft).

Since "day one,"  Alaska Steamship had been providing passenger service, break-bulk and deck cargo space to Alaska. Oversize loading went by barge, or the long way around on the Alcan Highway.

But Alaska Steamship got out of the passenger business in 1954. Unable to adapt to the new containerization technologies, Alaska Steamship company shuttered in 1971, creating a vast gap in needed freight services.

The gap was filled in September 1975, when TOTE initiated roll-on / roll off  ( RO-RO) service to Alaska.   The 790 foot Great Land departed Seattle for Anchorage, with 380 40-foot trailers and 126 motor vehicles.

She was soon joined by her sister, the Westward Venture.

Great Land service continued until 2003, when  TOTE built two new vessels in the Orca Class —  the Midnight Sun and North Star. Great Land was mothballed, and eventually went under the cutter's torch. The Westward Venture continued on this route until 2005.



Today, TOTE operates from the Port of Tacoma, and is one of many marine assets controlled by Saltchuk Resources. Thankfully, Saltchuk is "locally" owned, not an extension of some shadowy international conglomerate. Indeed "Saltchuk" from Chinook, means "saltwater."

More Good News! 

Not only is Saltchuk a local family owned entity, but American citizens in San Diego, California built the Midnight Sun and North Star! Construction on the first Orca-class ship, the m/v Midnight Sun, began in June 2001 and its christening was August 3, 2002, and delivered in April 2003. The m/v North Star, was christened on June 14, 2003, and delivered in August 2003.

But Wait! There's More Good News!

TOTE is converting its two Orca-class vessels to operate on Liquified Natural Gas (LNG.)

The process of conversion of North Star and Midnight Sun will begin in the fall of 2015.

Initially, the two ships will be fueled from an LNG bunker barge, while a shore-based bunkering facility is planned for construction in the Port of Tacoma.

So much more good news!  Five weeks ago, on April 18, TOTE launched the worlds first LNG container ship, christened Isla Bella, in a spectacular nighttime launch, complete with fireworks! 

Here is an interesting time lapse video detailing  the construction of the LNG tanks.

In December, the United Arab Shipping Company (USAC) launched the MV Sajir, 15,000 TEU container ship, advertised as "LNG ready."

"LNG ready" which means the vessel has been built with double wall gas piping, a dual-fuel main engine and the space needed for later retrofitting of tanks and regasification equipment so the ship can burn LNG in addition to heavy fuel oil or marine gas oil.

It will require down time to switch from bunker fuel to LNG when the time comes, while TOTE's Isla Bella is actually running on LNG.

Mrs. Sophie Sacco-wife of Michael Sacco, president of the Seafarers International Union of North America, AFL-CIO-christened the Isla Bella with the traditional champagne bottle break over the ship's hull.

Undoubtedly you've seen hilarious visuals of champagne bottles bouncing off the bow of  a vessel or nose of aircraft. Finally, a high tech solution to this embarrassing event. Look carefully at this photo. A bracket with teeth has been welded to the Isla Bella, insuring a decisive bottle smash!

Isla Bella ("Beautiful Island") will be joined by her sister, now under construction at NASSCO, Perla Del Caribe ("Pearl of the Caribbean") in 2016. The 3,100 TEU vessels will operate on the Jacksonville Florida - San Juan Puerto Rico service.

If you spend too much time watching TV, you may have seen this commercial featuring the new TOTE container ship. It is part of the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) "Think About it" campaign.  The claim is that by switching to LNG to power the vessel, atmospheric emissions will be reduced by 70%.

While that is admirable, informed audiences are rightfully skeptical of propaganda feeding us selected feel good facts about what ever industry cabal they represent.

Another example is presented by former beauty queen, former soap opera star, and former Fox reporter, Brooke Alexander, spokesperson for American Petroleum Institute (API), wherein she "Connects the Dots" promoting fracking.

And for sure, anyone who has been associated with Roger Ailes is immediately suspect!