On Christmas, tugs push on Holiday: For crews on the small boats that guide hulking freighters in the harbor, yesterday was business as usual.


Big ships don't take holidays, not even on Christmas.

And neither do the tugboats that guide them to port in Baltimore. So the Cape Romain was on duty yesterday, along with its partner, the Judy Moran.

"The ships come into Baltimore, and we've got to help them in," said Tony Roman, who sails as mate on the Cape Romain. "It's not such a bad way to spend the holiday."

The Cape Romain's four crew members treated their Christmas journey through the Patapsco River with little fanfare -- just a brief exchange of holiday greetings before the 105-foot vessel pushed off from Recreation Pier in Fells Point.

For the Moran Towing Co. employees, Christmas was over at midnight Tuesday, when their two-week shift on-board began. The boat sported no Christmas tree, no Santa caps, and if liquid spirits mingled with the diesel fuel, it was well-concealed.

"At least I got the time to spend [Tuesday] night at home," said Capt. Bobby Evans, the tug's skipper.

Last year, Evans and the boat's engineer, Robert Ash, spent most of December lugging a decommissioned Navy ship from Philadelphia to a scrap yard in Brownsville, Texas. They didn't get to Texas until Christmas Eve, and no flight back to Baltimore was available until Christmas night.

"It was a long, lonely trip, but it's all part of the business," said Evans, 37.

Working on Christmas is a familiar part of life on the harbor, according to the tug's crew, and Roman, 37, can't remember the last time he was off on the holiday.

Yesterday, the workload was lighter than usual, however, with only two freighters calling.

Throughout the afternoon, the Cape Romain crew -- Evans, Roman, Ash and deckhand Eugene Golubev -- joked around, tried to relax and reminded each other of the holiday pay that will bolster their paychecks next week.

"The main thing special about Christmas is that you get a little extra time to sit around and tell sea stories," said Mark Adams, a Moran Towing docking pilot who hitched a ride back to Thames Street on the Cape Romain after guiding the CCNI Arauco into Locust Point.

The men aboard the Cape Romain say they are close, a necessity when living with co-workers around the clock for two weeks at a time in close quarters. Pushing 40,000-ton vessels with a 150-ton tugboat also demands quite a bit of trust, although the intimacy falls short of exchanging Christmas gifts.

"We're close, but not that close," Roman said, laughing. .

Unlike almost every other day, the harbor was virtually empty yesterday -- no sailboats, no pleasure cruisers, not even a water taxi packed with tourists. Just a couple of gulls sailing through the brisk wind.

"Today is about the only nice day of the year where no one else is on the water," said Evans, noting that the harbor is equally desolate when "full of ice."

Pub Date: 12/26/96

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