A seasoned captain delivering tugs on their own keel
Jaap de Jong
Many of Damen’s tugs are delivered to the customer ‘on their own keel’ – meaning that the company calls on one of its independent, and highly experienced, captains to deliver the vessel to its home destination. One such man is Captain Jaap de Jong, whose maritime career has taken him to all corners of the globe.
Captain De Jong’s first job at sea was close to home. “I started off in 1974 as deck hands on a fishing cutter sailing out of Harlingen, the Netherlands.” His horizons broadened when he started sailing for Damen in 1983. “I remember the first assignments were with three Stan Tugs 2608: Tasua, Soreh and Sarallah heading for Iran. I was chief mate and my brother, Siemen, was captain,” he says. “And, since 1997, I have served as Captain myself, making around six trips per year for Damen. In that time, I have captained well over 100 Damen newbuild ships.”
His time as a Damen Captain has given him some memorable moments. In 1991, for instance, during an emergency bunker stop in Mogadishu, on discovering that the city had no bank or telephone, he had to fly with a little Red Cross aeroplane to Nairobi to arrange the necessary funds – and returned with the money hidden in his sock. Then in 2012, he picked up around 70 Afghan refugees from the waters between Indonesia and the Australian territory of Christmas Island. In fact, Captain De Jong has written a book (with the Dutch title of ‘Verborgen Zee Aanzichten’) comprising experiences and recollections from his extensive maritime career.
Over the years, he has also witnessed some important developments in tug design: “The biggest change has been the transition from double screw to ASD propulsion for harbour tugs. This called for a totally different approach to manoeuvring,” he notes.
“And for the fast coastguard vessels the Enlarged Ship Concept – the lengthening of the hull while maintaining weight in combination with stabilisers – made a fine sea-going ship that was nice to sail.”
The function of man at sea has also changed, Captain De Jong goes on to say. “In the beginning we were navigators – finding our position on the open sea using a sextant. And close to shore we took radar bearings of prominent coastlines. Nowadays we are operators looking after the processes with digital equipment on board – we now have much more of an administrative role.”
One of his recent assignments was to deliver the ASD Tug 2411 Jesus from Shanghai to Panama, from where it would sail to the port of Veracruz in Mexico. Planning this major journey of 10,500 nautical miles highlighted some interesting aspects of navigation. “We couldn’t sail the ‘direct’ route via Hawaii, because the bunker capacity was too small to bridge the distance between Shanghai, Hawaii and Panama,” he explains. “So we broke the route into smaller portions – sailing via Japan, the Aleutian Islands, and then along the US coast to Panama. What we initially expected to be a detour was actually 300 miles shorter than the ‘direct’ route. It seems that, nowadays, the Mercator projection of maps is so imprinted in our minds that it severely affects our representation of the Earth.”
The most northerly point of the voyage was a bunker stop in Dutch Harbor on the Aleutian Island of Amaknak. “The story goes that Dutch Harbor was so named by the British explorer James Cook because, when he first entered the bay, there was a Dutch ship at anchor there. These days though, it is better known for the rugged images of the crab fishing industry on the Discovery Channel.”
Underway to the cold and barren island, there was still quite some unexpected activity at sea; of both the maritime and zoological varieties. “At lower latitudes we experienced several large container ships – working Asian American routes – that would pass us on a daily basis. And at higher latitudes we were constantly circled by large numbers of seabirds, including the majestic great albatross.”
Turing south, passing the ‘tree line’ of 50 degrees North, Captain De Jong took the Jesus towards the more tropical climes of Central America, where the vessel was successfully delivered to her new owners Reylaver in preparation for her naming ceremony in Veracruz, Mexico. Following this, Captain De Jong made his way back home to the Netherlands: “I was quicker than Jules Verne on this trip,” he says. “I went round the world – with train, plane, taxi and tug – in 71 days!”