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Petty Officer 2nd Class Gilbert Gumba splices a double-braided line in preparation for a morning of ship-moving Wednesday on one of Yokosuka Naval Base’s tugboats.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Gilbert Gumba splices a double-braided line in preparation for a morning of ship-moving Wednesday on one of Yokosuka Naval Base’s tugboats. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Petty Officer 2nd Class Gilbert Gumba splices a double-braided line in preparation for a morning of ship-moving Wednesday on one of Yokosuka Naval Base’s tugboats.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Gilbert Gumba splices a double-braided line in preparation for a morning of ship-moving Wednesday on one of Yokosuka Naval Base’s tugboats. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Senior Navy Pilot Jim Cox, a chief petty officer, changes ships Wednesday.
Senior Navy Pilot Jim Cox, a chief petty officer, changes ships Wednesday. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Seaman Samantha Angosta prepares the lines to tow a ship out.
Seaman Samantha Angosta prepares the lines to tow a ship out. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Senior Chief Petty Officer Richard “Al” Stroup and pilot-in-training Chief Petty Officer Brian Ramsey discuss the best way to move one of the U.S. Navy’s mult-million dollar warships with one of Yokosuka Naval Base’s tugboats.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Richard “Al” Stroup and pilot-in-training Chief Petty Officer Brian Ramsey discuss the best way to move one of the U.S. Navy’s mult-million dollar warships with one of Yokosuka Naval Base’s tugboats. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Seaman Apprentice Jonathan Hudgens lobs the heaving line from the tugboat up to the USS John S. McCain Wednesday in preparation to help get the destroyer underway.
Seaman Apprentice Jonathan Hudgens lobs the heaving line from the tugboat up to the USS John S. McCain Wednesday in preparation to help get the destroyer underway. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — You can “bullnose.” You can “head in a quarter.” You can “single headline.” You can “Mississippi makeup,” though that’s seldom done these days.

There are many ways to move the U.S. Navy’s massive, multimillion-dollar warships in or out of Yokosuka Naval Base. But there aren’t many places where it’s Navy ships and Navy people doing the maneuvering.

Yokosuka’s is the Navy’s last military-owned, military-crewed tugboat operation. Every other military port either contracts the heavy hauling to commercial operators or has American civilians crew Navy-owned tugs.

“Yokosuka is unique,” said Port Operations Officer Lt. Cmdr. Andrew LaMorie. “We move ships. We move submarines. We move barges, visitors and foreign ships. We help with ordnance-loading and have firefighting capabilities.”

It all depends on the day. Wednesday’s schedule, for instance, had six U.S. warships getting under way in 45-minute intervals. Two tugboats — some 35-42 years old — had to get the warships out to sea on time.

“They can’t go anywhere without us,” quipped tugmaster Senior Chief Petty Officer Richard “Al” Stroup.

Outweighed and outmanned, the tugs, each with a single 2,000 horsepower engine and an average crew of five, shuttled around ships weighing 10,000 tons and carrying about 350 people a pop.

This meant ladder jumps for senior pilots Gerald Partridge and Jim Cox, both chief petty officers — they steered the ships out of the harbor, then hopped back on the tugboat while both ships were moving.

“I’ve been a pilot long enough to get gray hair and wrinkles,” Cox said.

Due to the trends in contracting, piloting isn’t too popular with Navy folk these days, said Chief Petty Officer Brian Ramsey. He is one of only two quartermasters in the Navy’s program, which requires nine months of specialized training in Little Creek, Va., plus a couple of years of port training.

He wants to be a pilot, but it’s not the pay or prestige that draws him, he joked.

“It’s a unique program and we’re a dying breed,” Ramsey said. “You get a lot of responsibility as an officer of the deck and it’s just something different.”

“It’s shore duty, but it’s not really,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Viertel. He misses working on the bigger ships and traveling to foreign ports, he said, but tugs are “more relaxed,” he said.

Yokosuka’s operation offers sailors who love the water a chance to continue in their seagoing fields even while technically on shore, said LaMorie.

“Boatswains mates can continue their trade by handling lines, maneuvering ships, and receive training to be a dock or tugmaster,” LaMorie said. “Engineers and electricians can continue their work. They don’t have to switch to something totally different.”

Navy-crewed tugboats also help the bottom line, LaMorie said.

“We don’t have to worry about overtime and hiring issues,” LaMorie said.

The trick, tugmaster Stroup said, is getting the detailers to remember them.

Manning is an issue, as Yokosuka only has only two tugmasters right now. More are coming, said LaMorie, but the manning will decrease if their proposal to get new tugboats is funded.

The new 4,000 horsepower tugboats are easier to drive, require less expertise and smaller crews. The new tugs are expected in Yokosuka around the same time as the new nuclear aircraft carrier in 2008-2009, LaMorie said.

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