The Oil Scoop

The Remias familyA Richmond family drove down to get away from the lockdown and the George Floyd protest violence to enjoy a quiet and picturesque day on the York River. They enjoyied a big day of sailing and got the oil scoop on barges. Faika Zanjani is a professor at VCU specializing in bacterial issues, but we didn’t dwell on that. Her husband Joe works in the energy field and was familiar with oil barges.

We zoomed out the river on a brisk northeast wind and made it all the way to Goodwin Island, where I explained to their inquisitive son Noah how the Battle of the Capes set up the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. His mom had taken him to see “Hamilton” in Richmond, and he asked pertinent questions. At the exact spot where we turned 180 degrees, the French had stationed four man-0-war battleships to blockade the British at Yorktown from exiting by water. That set the trap for the end of the Revolutionary War.

Faika’s husband Joe grabbed the helm and never let go. “Now I get it,” he said. “My old boss used to talk about sailing, and then he retired to do more sailing. No wonder!” As he learned the close reach and how the wind pulled the boat instead of pushed it, Joe said, “Of course, I just assumed the wind pushed the boat. I get it now. That makes more sense.” He held on as the wind built to 12 mph and produced scattered whitecaps.

The Oil ScoopOn the way back downriver on a beam reach, we passed an empty oil barge with an accompanying tugboat. Usually when they’re empty they leave, so I radioed the captain of the tug Innovation and asked why he was hanging around. He said they were getting ready to pick up oil from the Colonial Pipeline (which goes to Philadelphia). I asked if the capacity was 30,000 barrels. “No, ours is 195,000 barrels.” I asked if it was correct to multiply that times 55 to get the number of gallons in a 55-gallon drum. “No, we average more like 42.”

The Oil ScoopJoe, who works for an energy firm chimed in, “He’s right. At work, we have messages and signs everywhere not to overfill containers. A 55-gallon drum should have no more than 42 gallons in it to allow for expansion.”

I asked, “What happens if it’s too full, will it explode?” Joe responded, “It won’t explode, but it will start to leak through the seams as they crack and break. In smaller containers, expansion might pop the top.

In any event, the capacity of the barge in gallons works out to nearly 8.2 million gallons.

Oil Scoop II

Oil Scoop IIThe next day on a new adventure, another empty oil barge showed up, this one already having docked at the Yorktown Terminal while the original Innovation tugboat and barge stood anchored. Barges typicalliy don’t offload oil at Yorktown, since it’s usually the other way around. The only explanation was that the current oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia has led to a glut that requires storage offshore. As we sailed past, I radioed the Innovation to ask the next stop. A woman crew member from the tug said curtly, “Jacksonville.”

Oil Scoop IIThe crew this day were a family from Dinwiddie VA celebrating the birthday of their husband/dad Mike Card. He works for the US Army at Fort Lee as a civilian. “I retired from the Navy in 2004 where I worked in support for Navy SEALS down at Rudy Inlet.” So you were a Navy SEAL? “No, no, no. I was just in support, carrying their bags. I loaded their guns and showed them were to shoot.” A very adroit response.

Oil Scoop IIWe tacked downriver in a mid-tide current, learning the CBDR technique to avoid collision with R-24 buoy. Mike and Robin’s son Sammy learned how to turn the jib sheets as food and wine broke out on a brilliant sunny day. Robin asked about living on a boat, and I said it was okay except in winter because they have no insulation. We have two live aboards at the marina, plus the occasional dude in the doghouse.

“I could live on a boat like this,” Robin sighed. “In fact, I might start a fight to live on the boat–and then make up before winter sets in.” Everyone laughed heartily. 

Oil Scoop III

Oil Scoop IIINext day, another oil barge showed up. This one was smaller and accompanied by a smaller Vang Brothers tugboat. This time the barge was low in the water with no visible waterline. That implied it was full and waiting to offload at the Yorktown Terminal. I radioed to estimate the size of the barge at 50,000 barrels, to which the tug captain replied briefly, “That’s about right.” Not a very chatty group, these tugboat captains. Perhaps he should amble over to the larger empty barge and offload there to save everyone time and money. But I doubted he’d get the irony.

Oil Scoop IIIOur afternoon crew consisted of two sisters and their husbands, from Alabama. Misty and Riggo Ortiz operate a Rage Room in Huntsville, which is all the rage for people who’ve been cooped up under the state lockdowns. “It’s going very well. People can come in and break things to vent their frustration,” she said. “They can bring their own stuff in, like an old fax machine,” he said. We give customers are protective gear and encourage them to use baseball bats and even a crowbar to break walls, windows and more. “But not each other,” Riggo cautioned. “They have to sign a disclaimer that they have not been coerced to participate and haven’t coerced anyone themselves.” 

Oil Scoop III

Oil Scoop IIIKenny Brizendine wore a T-shirt reading, “USMC Mud Run,” but he’s not a Marine. “I’m Army actually. I won it in a contest where if I could wrestle the shirt off a Marine in a mud pit I would get it.” He’s a staff sergeant heading into Officer Basic Training — the hard way. “I’m originally Air Force, and the Army doesn’t recognize their enlisted basic training, so I have to start over. That’s at Fort Sill. Then on to OTC at Fort Benning. All at the ripe old age of 34.” He looked perfectly fit for the endurance. Misty, Kenny and  Riggo went for a quick swim before we headed home.

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Oil Scoop III

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