This is their livelihood and our blundering interference can often leave these Captains with a sour taste for sailboaters. Although Bruce and I have been on the water for years (decades)... we are coming into Cruising as Newbies and for this reason, we are trying to learn all we can about this way of life.
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge slides by with a swish on our Starboard side as we listen to the radio traffic on the VHF. There are four tugboats involved in the conversation. They are courteous to one another and have been so to us as I hailed them for instructions as to where they wished us to be for this multi-vessel passing situation. We were given instructions and passed on the "Two Whistle" (Starboard to Starboard) hugging the green side of the channel to allow ample space for these fatboys to pass.
The chatter revolves around a lone fishing boat who has parked himself smack in the middle of the pathway causing these Captains to alter course or even bank their barges to wait for him to pull his head out and get out of the way... One pushes his barge even further ashore to allow his colleague to pass in spite of the fisherman.
We want to do all we can to change the image we "Rich Sailboaters" share in the eyes of these workmen on the waterways. We are taking note of the manner in which they communicate with one another and trying our best to blend in.
I was given a bit of advice years ago from a "Looper" that I think has really helped. Many times I've heard sailors in our sailing area complaining about being ignored on the VHF radio when hailing the Tugboat Captains. I'll say that I have had about 80% positive response by following our Looper friend's advice. I always announce our name and type of vessel, which direction we are traveling and which statute mile we are nearing or have passed. The use of statute mile marker vs. green cans or other landmarks seem to make all the difference.
Maybe this isn't the real reason for our acceptance. Maybe it's just the sound of a woman's voice on the radio that puts these men into a more responsive mood... But it works for us. Try it next time your'e out on the ICW and see if it helps you. Above all, remember that this is their world and we are invited in only if we can leave our self entitlement tendencies outside the door and always leave a clean wake.
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