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February 2006
Article Archives:
Shifting Responsibilities & Fleeting Priorities
a monthly article by Robert Rishel
Welcome to! I guess I should start off by describing a little bit
about what I expect and want this website to become. To do that I need to tell
you all a little bit about myself. My name is Robert Rishel. I started working on
a towboat as a deckhand back in 1989. I stepped onto my first vessel, the M/V
Flapper, as green as money. Money. Now that may be why most of us work
but for me, at that time (earning $45/day!) money was not the attraction. I got
on a boat because I was intrigued. I had never even seen a towboat before
and if I had it did not register in my memory. I did not even know the upper
Black Warrior river existed (literally!) until I went for my interview.  At the time it
was perfect, I would be living on a boat for the most part,working 14/7, so
when off the boat I could stay with family and friends, it would be like visiting. I
found that I loved it. The first day I went aboard, I looked around, saw who did
what and immediately saw the position I wanted:
I worked from day one with that goal in mind. Everything I did, every watch,
was framed by my desire to become a Captain. And I did. I gained access to
the wheelhouse, as a pilot in 1993.  I quickly became relief Captain and then
in 1997 was charged with my first position as full Captain. I moved my family
from Birmingham to Mobile to be closer to our company main office and
pursue a position in the Harbor. I wanted to learn the fast pace of shiftwork. I
excelled at operating a fleet boat. It required dealing with a completely
different type of pressure and exercising a particular diplomacy and control of
temper unlike line-haul pilotage.  And so it went, until one day in 2003, the
owner of the company I had worked for since that first day on a towboat,
called me up on the phone and asked me to come into the office.
To work. We
had a major shake up in management when nearly everyone who operated
the place left rather abruptly to "start" their own business.  The boss had
asked me and another pilot, John Rockwell, Jr. whom he trusted and had faith
in,  to basically come in and operate the business.  We were both pretty much
scared shitless. It was a great experience, however,  and I learned a
completely different side to towboating. I have never dealt with more stress in
my life! Near the end of 2005 I moved on to join John Rockwell in a business
venture of our own,
Sarai Transportation.
What does this have to with a website about towboating? Well, over the years
something became universally apparent to me: the towboat lifestyle is an
exercise in isolation. We are separated from our families and friends. We are
essentially cut off from large parts of our culture and community for long
periods of time and lets face it, when we do get home it is more a feeling of
visiting rather than living there.  I have always thought there must be a way to
change that feeling of isolation and distance and to give us, as towboaters,  a
way of communicating ideas, common issues and lessons learned. I know
there are some great publications out there already;
The Waterways Journal
is a great example with a fantastic website, .  
Professional Mariner, though it caters more to Tugboaters, is also a great
format. The problem I have found with them is that they are all just too formal,
too impersonal. They don't seem to me to be written in the language most of
us speak, nor are they written by us. They are focused more on the news and
the politics of the industry, which is important, do not misunderstand me. We
do need to know what the USCG and the suits in Washington are up to with
regards to our livelihood.
I think we could use something more. A place where any Captain, Pilot,
Deckhand, Engineer, Port Captain, Operator, Owner, or family member can
express an opinion, offer up some advice, or give props to their crew or
vessel. A place about towboat
I am keeping a very open mind about the direction of this site. Where it goes
if it goes depends a great deal upon you guys out there. I am hoping you
will help navigate this thing in the right direction. So break out your laptop or
pen and paper, fire up your camera and share with the rest of us something
about being a towboater.
-Robert Rishel
To submit articles about piloting, navigating, towbuilding or anything  
regarding life on a towboat please email:
An online magazine dedicated to the lifestyle and challenges
of professional towboating.