Life as a commercial mariner

“Tales from a Tugboat Captain: An Inside Glimpse of what it’s Like to Live Where You Work”
Thomas Teague; Self-published, 2019; 135 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by Bob Muggleston
For Points East

OK, so a minor disclaimer: I’m a total sucker for books written by professional mariners. Being on the recreational side of the boating equation, I often look at the workboats and ships around me on the water as they steam past. They seem to exist in a world of their own. That is, what they do, and how they do it, is usually out of sight. Also, I love the romance of the individualism in their ranks, which no doubt serves them well when things invariably go wrong. These sentiments probably have a lot to do with my decision to work aboard a Bering Sea longliner in the early ’90s (a story for another time), and the reason I place books like Ellery Thompson’s “Draggerman’s Haul” on such a high pedestal.

Thomas Teague’s “Tales from a Tugboat Captain” is a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is romp through one man’s life aboard tugboats. Picture yourself in one of those little shacks at the end of a commercial dock in Maine. There’s a potbelly stove with a handful of old salts gathered around it, a bottle of whiskey, and tobacco smoke. What would these men discuss? Most likely their particular industry, the mates they knew, drinking stories, storms at sea, practical jokes and creative ways to kill time. Teague reminisces on these topics, and more.

Interesting, too, is the character arc of Teague himself. As a young tugboat crewman he singlehandedly destroyed a waterside bar; by the end of the book he’s an esteemed tugboat captain fretting over the welfare of his own spirited charges.

That said, the bar-destroying chapter is a bit cringe-worthy. So much damage was done that the place never re-opened. But Teague rescues himself by describing the nature of the destruction itself – which includes one-gallon containers of condiments thrown through a wood-paneled wall – and divulging details like the fact that a fellow crewmate flipped a dumpster outside the bar onto Teague’s foot. The foot was broken, of course, but Teague, feeling no pain, was able to run back to his boat. It’s a cautionary tale: “Don’t be stupid like me!” (Teague was later arrested and made to pay for all the damage.)

To be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for this self-published book, but I was pleasantly surprised. If you’re at all interested in that other life “out there,” and you don’t mind at least a bit of technical information as to how things are done on a commercial vessel, you’ll feel yourself being pulled through, page by page, wanting to find out what happens next.

Bob Muggleston, who now dreams of throwing a gallon-sized container of mayonnaise through a wood-panel wall, is the editor of this magazine.