Can Do Sailors

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 8:45am

“Yes, we ran like a scared chicken. After seeing Irma make her forecasted turn to the north up the east coast of Florida, we turned to the east, and chased her—like any badass sailor would—until she was safely clear of the Florida straits.”  —Captain Lisa Chaplin-Dixon, Master of the M/T Oregon Voyager

As of this writing there are three hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean; they seem to just spin off Cape Town, South Africa and make their way West. This season two category four hurricanes have made landfall on the shores of the Continental United States.

Furthermore, several Caribbean islands have sustained unprecedented damage — from Irma. The reality of the damage is clearly seen from the images from the air and ground which can be accessed by the click of an iPhone.

One thing that both of these massive storms made clear was the importance of getting scheduled fuel to these areas. Fuel for: generators, aircraft, stoves, backhoes, trucks (of all sorts), and boats. On a regular basis, the demand for fuel makes this country function as it does, it’s a necessity. There is no such thing as a day off — slack time — when fuel is needed. It’s needed when it’s needed, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and fuel tankers are a major delivery system to supply this demand.

Captain Lisa Chaplin-Dixon was a former student of mine at Narragansett High School. This summer Lisa stopped by the ferry docks to say hello, and let me know how things were in the tanker driving business. Captain Lisa had just crossed the Pacific Ocean from Singapore, transited The Ditch, the Panama Canal, and took her ship to Pascagoula, Mississippi. She was off duty, and heading down to Florida where she and her husband have a home. Last year her ship was running fuel up the coast of California. Captain Lisa is a very capable and competent Merchant Sailor. It was great catching up with her—it always is. I’m very proud of this woman and her success in a very demanding maritime career.

Last week she sent me a note of her current status. After Harvey made landfall in Texas, Irma was next in the queue to take aim at other very vulnerable targets: Barbuda, St. Thomas, St. John, the Florida Keys, et al. Aboard the 620-foot Oregon Voyager, Captain Lisa was bound for Port Everglades — Fort Lauderdale — and she and her officers had been monitoring Irma as she churned across the Atlantic. “Each day we plotted and replotted Irma’s forecasted path, and adjusted our navigation plan to account for flaws in the forecast,” she said. Her ship does a steady run from Pascagoula to Port Everglades. “We make a round trip about every week,” she said. Currently, Captain and crew are monitoring José; however, this is not of major concern for her ship at this time. “José shouldn’t bother us at all,” she said. (However, as of this writing, 9/18/17, at 2200 hours, Hurricane Maria was just upgraded to a category five event. This track looks to be problematic. Time will tell.)

On September 11, passing south of the Keys, Captain Lisa noted, “The water was still stirred up with sand making it a gorgeous aqua color from the storm passing, but it was a beautiful sunny day with calm seas. It was weird to see such beauty after such chaos had passed through the day before.” The Oregon Voyager had steamed on a course to avoid the western drift of Irma, and then the ship made her way north to discharge the precious cargo of: diesel, gasoline, jet fuel and aviation gas. Captain Lisa had been monitoring Irma right out of the gate. “I had been watching her since she came off the African Coast, and she seemed determined to make her mark on the world from the very beginning,” she said. Irma did.

According to Captain Lisa, Florida has very strict laws about the storage of gasoline; they need a constant supply. Given this, prior to when Irma hit the Keys and spun up the center of Florida, people were trying to find refuge from this severe storm. Subsequently, as people fled, the demand for fuel increased. The conflict was clear; no fuel, nothing moves. Besides Captain Lisa, there were two others aboard who live in Florida; this hurricane was becoming personal. “Since the forecast had Irma making landfall in the Junior First Officer’s hometown, we signed him off the vessel so he could help his roommates prepare for the storm,” she said. “The Able Seaman was fairly certain his family would be safe, and prepared, so he stayed aboard to help his shipmates.”

As a result of proper training, planning, vigilance and concerted teamwork, Chevron’s Captain Lisa Chaplin-Dixon, officers, engineers, and able-bodied seamen, were able to deliver their much-needed cargo to the people of Florida. Although channel buoys were missing or off station, the Army Corps of Engineers conducted a thorough survey which aided the Port’s Pilot in guiding the ship to her dock. It is here that we can all give a respectful nod to the un-sung professionalism of those aboard the M/T Oregon Voyager, who along with other ships will continue to supply the storm ravaged parts of the state of Florida, Texas, and the islands of the Caribbean.

Finally, the work of rebuilding the hardest hit areas will, without question, bring to attention the hard work and dedication of our nation’s Merchant Mariners, who are one and all, Can-Do Sailors.