Capt. Curtis Iaukea steered Tiger 21 toward Honolulu Harbor on a postcard-perfect Hawaii afternoon. The job awaiting them was straightforward: shifting a Sause Bros. barge a few hundred yards from one berth to another.
The 3,600-hp Joseph Sause made up to Hilo Bay’s starboard hip before Tiger 21 arrived. The Sause tug would provide the muscle on the sternward transit. Tiger 21 would handle the barge’s bow on the run between Pier 28 and the fuel terminal at Pier 30.
“My responsibility is to pull the (bow) so we come evenly off the pier,” Iaukea explained. “(Joseph Sause) can only really control one side. They need me to control the opposite side of the barge.”
The 4,400-hp Tiger 21 is one of more than a dozen Tiger tugs that P&R Water Taxi has built at its shipyard in Kewalo Basin, just west of Waikiki in downtown Honolulu. These nimble tugs, designed by P&R owner Charlie Pires with help from a Hawaiian naval architect, work in all of Hawaii’s commercial ports. P&R also has a contract to handle Navy ships in Pearl Harbor.
This was the first time Iaukea had done this particular job since transferring from Pearl Harbor about six months earlier. He conferred with deck hands Micah Kama and Micah Makekau Keaupuni while the tug headed to Honolulu Harbor.
P&R is something of an outlier among ship-assist companies for its willingness to hire inexperienced mariners and provide on-the-job training. Iaukea joined the company almost five years ago after working for a tour boat company. Keaupuni is related to another P&R employee but had no experience when he hired on in 2016.
“They hired me right off Waikiki Beach,” Iaukea said. “I didn’t get to drive for a few years, but … they gave me a shot and were willing to teach me.”
The company has about 60 mariners working across Hawaii. Nearly half of them joined with no maritime experience, according to Kate Keeler, a company spokeswoman. “I don’t know how the rest of the industry does it, but we find great local talent in attitude and aptitude,” she said.
P&R port Capt. Eric Tang is a prime example. He planned on a career driving buses around Oahu when Pires offered him a job 31 years ago. Keeler, a mariner herself who operated vessels in the Marshall Islands, described Tang as an excellent instructor, a kind man and one of the finest boat operators she’s ever met.
“I believe he has trained every captain currently working at P&R, and he never attended an academy,” she said.
After arriving in Honolulu Harbor, Kama and Keaupuni got a line on Hilo Bay’s port bow. Responding to instructions from the Sause crew, Tiger 21 pulled the bow off the wall at Pier 28.
The tow had to clear the Sause tugboat Mary Catherine tied up at Pier 29 en route to Pier 30. Lookouts on the barge called out distances as the vessels approached the moored tug.
Iaukea nudged Hilo Bay’s bow toward the dock at Pier 30, a few hundred feet aft of Mary Catherine. The empty barge moved with little effort. Before long, it was safely in position at the terminal.
On the way back to Kewalo Basin, Iaukea praised the year-old tug’s responsiveness and agility, particularly when moving side to side along a ship’s hull. He lamented not being able to show off those capabilities handling Hilo Bay. That particular job, he said, is about as easy as it gets for P&R crews. •