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Great Lake Warriors' Captain Stan: Crusty captain or proud uncle?

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Everyone has to learn, and in the tugboat business, that process can be dangerous, even deadly.

The captains on the History Channel's Great Lake Warriors have different styles, different personalities; ol’ Stan—he’s a “crusty” one.

Everyone has to be a rookie at some point in their career, but sometimes the seasoned captains will forget that fact. Stan, having to work with his nephew, a rookie captain, breaking ice seemed to have forgotten that.

“I’ve been on the boat ever since I was about four years old,” Nate said. “And, I’m a captain/deckhand/engineer—jack-of-all-trades. I was born into it, basically.”

Having to break almost a square mile of ice with temperatures dropping fast, Captain Gerry, Stan’s boss and brother—and Nate’s dad—brought in the second tug, with Nate at the helm. As a rookie, Nate was not certified to run the tug alone, so Captain Gerry was in the wheelhouse, as well, but Captain Stan was not happy with working with his nephew.

“This is what we get paid for,” Captain Stan said. “Going out and smackin’ ice. … You don’t want to have any rookies running boats this time of the year. It’s not a game doing this. This is serious business.”

Can you imagine his frustration if he had to work with Porkchop?

“As long as he stays outta my way, everything is groovy.”

“I don’t know what it’s gonna take for me to win Stan over,” Nate said.

“Working with my nephew can be a challenge at times. He wants to learn, but there are times when he is not mature enough, and that can be a challenge.”

Captain Stan may not have been happy, but, the thing is, in order to learn, new people need to experience new things.

“Ice breaking is a dangerous business,” Captain Gerry said, “but Nathan needs some experience on the bigger tugs. It’s just time to let him do it more.”

What makes ice on the Great Lakes so dangerous is not the ice that one sees on the surface, but the thick, jagged chunks one cannot see below the surface. These pieces of ice can rip open a tug like a tin can, and send yet another boat to the bottom of a Great Lake. Plus, with warm, damp air pushing north, and high winds, heavy snow and colder temps on the way, Nate’s first ice-breaking assignment was definitely a “trial by ice.”

The ice was being cleared for an incoming fuel freighter. But, with the temperatures dropping, the ice was refreezing almost as quickly as it was broken, and the fuel freighter arrived ahead of schedule. So, the plan was to have one tug—Stan’s—breaking up ice in the harbor and have the other tug—Nate’s—along side the freighter, bringing it into the dock.

It was a difficult job for any captain, bringing the freighter filled with 4 million gallons of diesel fuel into the harbor; Nate's job was to ultimately nudge the freighter into dock. Any improper bumping or scraping could put a hole in the boat, spill fuel into the harbor, and cause a massive fire—and end Nate’s blossoming career. But, everyone has to learn.

And, of course, it couldn’t have helped that it was all being done at night.

“You always approach every boat as if it’s a bomb, try to come up against it easy,” Nate said.

And, in the end, Nate passed the test: He guided the tanker into dock.

Captain Stan: Crusty Captain, Proud Uncle

“The only thing Nathan doesn’t have right now is experience,” Captain Stan, the still-crusty-but-proud uncle, explained. “He’ll get it. He hasn’t got it yet, but he’ll get it. It’s just a matter of time.”

And, Nate obviously appreciates his uncle.

“Stan is Stan,” Nate said. “He’s taught me a lot over the years. He teaches me every time he goes out, whether he knows it or not.”

Ah, family—nice to see it working on Great Lake Warriors.

Great Lake Warriors airs on Thursday nights on the History Channel at 10/9c.

Image: Courtesy Towers Productions LLC

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