My Board Buddy and Me

Posted by Karen in Work.
Monday, April 23rd, 2007 at 9:07 am

[ crossposted at Fresh Water Stew! ]

A couple of weeks ago we had a full day strategic planning retreat. All of our staff and board members got together at a meeting room in the Mill City Museum to discuss the direction we would like to see the organization go over the next five years. Prior to the meeting, a board member had been matched up with each staff member and assigned the task of getting to know them a bit. Then, at the retreat, they each gave a short presentation about who we are and what we do as part of a staff recognition/appreciation type thing.

All of my coworkers were pretty jealous when my board buddy turned out to be Hokan. He works at a company that helps manage barge traffic on the river. So as his way of getting to know each other, Hokan invited me to meet him at his office for a tour, and then go out on the river on a towboat! (Everyone calls them tugboats, but Hokan explained to me that they are actually called towboats, even though they neither tug nor tow, they actually push.)

We started with a tour of his office, where Hokan told me about the shipping industry on the river and their role in it. He showed me some great maps and old photos, as well as a model of a towboat showing all of the important parts that are under the water. Living in Duluth for a couple of years and working at Vista Fleet for a summer, not to mention having a father who worked for a time on lake freighters on the Great Lakes, taught me a bit about the shipping industry there. So it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between shipping on lakes and shipping on rivers. He also showed me this giant board, which keeps track of all of the barges currently on the Twin Cities section of the Mississippi, whether they are full or empty, and which direction they are headed, among other things.

Finally it was time to head out on the river! Captain Mike picked us up on the mighty towboat Itasca and we headed downriver. Hokan pointed out lots of sights that I am still unfamiliar with, but that I will hopefully be quite familiar with by the end of the summer! I realize now that I should have been taking notes, because I don’t remember the names of everything we saw. I do know that we went down about as far as Holman Field, St. Paul’s small downtown airport. It was pretty amazing to see the downtown skyline right there, and at the same time have an eagle soaring above us and swallows swooping over the water eating insects. Urban nature still takes me by surprise sometimes.

In addition to Captain Mike, there were two deckhands on board. We maneuvered over to a barge and the deckhands hooked us up to it. I couldn’t believe how simple it seemed – it kind of looked like we just butted up to it and then they wrapped some metal cables around some posts, unwound the ones that were holding it to the dock, and we were off! I also couldn’t believe how agile the deckhands were! They walked so quickly on such narrow strips with things sticking out for you to trip on. I couldn’t help but ask Captain Mike if he’s ever seen anyone fall in, and he said "Oh yeah, many times". Crazy job!

We then took off, pushing the barge upriver. Hokan somehow thought it was a good idea for me to try driving the boat. I actually was really nervous! With the barge in front you’re pretty long, and the river suddenly seemed really narrow and bendy! Somehow I managed to not crash us, and Captain Mike took back the reins. He steered us over to the side of another barge, to which the deckhands connected our barge. They then disconnected us and we were on our way.  Captain Mike steered us over to the opposite shore where we disembarked.

I have a lot more getting to know this river to do, and this was a great opportunity for me to get right in the middle of it! And to be in the company of someone who has such a close relationship with the river, and could teach me about one of the river’s many roles as a shipping and transportation route, was just amazing. I have been bragging about it to my jealous coworkers ever since, and plan to for quite some time!

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One Response to “My Board Buddy and Me”

  1. Mary Jo Says:

    Wow, this is great Karen–you just keep right on bragging. It sounds like you had a thrilling time and really learned a lot while doing it.