A dirty job

Monday, February 1, 2010

This morning I cleaned the winch beds. I have been told that that is the filthiest and the least desirable job in the tugboat world. I have to be honest – I had a lot of fun. It was strangely satisfying to get extremely dirty, and in the end have the result be a [relatively] clean surface which was once black and full of grease and grime. Basically, a winch bed is a gigantic drip tray underneath the tow winch. Steel tow wires need to be well-lubricated so that they don’t chafe. We lube the wire as often as we can as it is pulled back onto the drum, and the cable lube runs off the wire and into the winch bed. The idea is to clean the winch bed every time we grease the tow wire but that rarely happens. When it congeals, the grease that they use to lubricate the tow wires has the consistency of tar, or maybe cold black chewing gum, but more slippery of course. It splatters and smears all over everything and every few months, someone has to go down beneath the tow winches and clean out those huge drip pans. It is, frankly, a disgusting job.

the “after” shot

The chief engineer cuts the grease with diesel and the result is a big black pool of diesel, grease, oil, dirt, gobs of sludge, rocks and chips of rusty metal. To start, I fashion a sort of squeegee with a rag tied around a hook at the end of a pole (which is about 5 feet long), and use that to scoop the diesel and oil toward the drain hole at the center of the rectangular winch bed (the drain leads down into the engine room, where the chief engineer places a 5-gallon bucket underneath each drain pipe to collect the contents of said winch beds, which are about five feet wide by four feet long). Once most of the liquid is down the drain, then I actually climb underneath the tow winches and start wiping away the rest of the grease and grime with rags soaked in diesel. Before I got started, I donned a Tyvek suit, safety glasses, gloves and rubber boots. So my clothes were protected for the most part (though the smell of diesel permeated my sweater and overalls); I also tied a rag around my head to protect my hair. I don’t care about the rest of my body or my clothes – I will not get cable grease in my hair for anybody!

Once I finished wiping down the surface underneath the winches, I wiped down the surrounding bulkheads and the overhead. Long story short I actually had a lot of fun, and I have a very ugly picture of myself on the back deck in a Tyvek suit and glasses, covered in grease and smiling wide.

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