Anchoring big ships in New York’s congested and tricky harbor sometimes requires Sandy Hook pilots to perform unusual maneuvers. As in the recent anchoring of an 830-foot laden transport tanker by a senior pilot, Capt. Charles Newman, even farm tractors can be useful.
It was Newman’s job recently to guide Eagle Baltimore from the pilot station at Ambrose Light to the Stapleton Anchorage area, which is just inside the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island.
As the sun rose over Brooklyn and Long Island and the ship passed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Newman contacted the Vessel Traffic System and slowed Eagle Baltimore to dead slow ahead.
Newman unfolded a photocopy of a chart of Stapleton Anchorage that showed not only soundings but also contours of the bottom. Drawn onto the chart was the suggested anchorage for Eagle Baltimore. “We want to drop the anchor here before the bottom starts to slope off,” he said to the master, Capt. Leong Kee Yeen, pointing to an area about a quarter of a mile off the Staten Island shore. “We want to be close enough to shore so that when the tide turns we’re not hanging our stern out too far into the channel,” Newman said. “We also don’t want to be so close to the beach that [the tanker is] in danger of dragging ashore if the wind picks up after the tide falls.”
Newman turned to the captain and pointed to the Staten Island shore to port and asked, “See that red tractor?” Capt. Leong looked through the forward windows in the direction Newman was pointing and nodded slowly. On the beach a crew of construction workers, who were milling around the tractor, appeared to be starting work on erosion control between the street and the water’s edge. “Right behind the tractor is Hylan Boulevard. When the guy on the bow can see straight up the Boulevard, we’ll let the anchor go.”
Newman explained that the ship, at 830 feet, was more than one-tenth of a mile long, which would mean that if he waited to see up Hylan Blvd. himself, from the bridge, he would have overshot the designated anchorage and the anchor would be dropped on the wrong side of the contour line of the chart.
As the ship inched forward, the master spoke briefly into his handheld to the men on the bow, who responded as though they immediately understood their bizarre instructions. He then nodded again to Newman.
Like many Sandy Hook pilots, Newman grew up on Staten Island and therefore knows every tree, street name, and building on the island.
After a few minutes of the ship sliding slowly forward, the master’s handheld radio crackled. “He says he can see straight up the street,” the master reported.
“Okay, let the anchor go,” Newman said, and the master relayed the message to the crew. A tremendous rattle and a cloud of red dust on the bow signaled that they had understood. Out on the port bridge wing Newman looked at the shore and then walked back to look at the radar screen. “This looks pretty good,” he said. “As the current pushes us back on the chain, we should be all set.”
Sure enough, the ship settled back on the anchor chain after a few minutes and appeared to be exactly as he had hoped.
On his way back to shore in the pilot launch, Newman looked up Hylan Blvd. and back at the ship, which had settled back so that the anchor chain was stretched out, Newman said with a shrug, “Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.”