It’s dangerous work, and people are intrigued by it. Zachary Wachowicz, a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union who puts in 82-hour weeks at work, says his job for Hodder Tugboat on the Fraser River ’is an instant conversation starter.’
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Zachary Wachowicz, 28:
– Log deckhand at Hodder Tugboat Co. Ltd., Richmond, B.C.
– High school diploma, Marine emergency duties course at B.C. Institute of Technology
– Average yearly income: $70,000 to $80,000
Q: Describe a typical day on the job.
A: I show up on Monday morning, get on the boat, see what I need, and gear up. My job is to tie up and untie booms and barges around the wood. We leave the dock and go up to the jetty, where all the wood comes in, which is about [19 km] away, string out a tow, tow the wood up the north arm of the Fraser River, deliver it, and get another tow ready. It’s a continual process. There’s no such thing as downtime on a tugboat. We do a week of days—six in the morning to six at night—then a week off, then a week of nights, which is six at night to six in the morning. I go home every day, but if you work on a bigger boat, you’ll live on it for two weeks at a time.
Q: I’m picturing 19th-century log drivers.
A: It’s the exact same thing, except the boats have more power. The job hasn’t changed.
Q: What do you need to do your job well?
A: A positive attitude is the biggest thing. You’ve got to be a hard worker, and you can’t shy away from getting wet. You’re going to get wet! It’s year-round, 24/7, no matter what.
Q: What happens in rough weather?
A: The river freezes sometimes; sometimes you have to break the booms out with axes, or, if they’re really jammed up, break ice with your tugboat. In the fog, you don’t take as much wood and you have to use the radio because you can’t even see each other.
Q: What is your favourite part of the job?
A: I’ll be honest, it’s the money. But I like the adventure; I’m an outdoors kind of guy. It is a pretty manly job. When I talk to girls and say I work on the tugs, it’s an instant conversation starter. People find it intriguing.
Q: Any advice for would-be deckhands?
A: Typically, when you start, you’ve got to train for free. If you show up with a positive attitude and aren’t afraid to ask questions, you’ll be just fine.
Q: Any downsides to the job?
A: When people see us on the river, they think our job’s so easy, because we make it look easy. All kinds of injuries are possible: shoulder, knees, back, pinched fingers from getting them caught in a rope or a chain. The work also does a number on your body. By the end of my work week, I can barely go up and down stairs sometimes. And, during my week on, I have no life. I go home and I sleep.
Q: Will you do this job forever?
A: I’d like to run a boat one day. The level of physicality would go down, but the stress level would go up. It’s a trade-off. But I plan on being around the river my whole life.
Q: What is your most memorable moment?
A: I fell between two booms as they were coming together. I poked my head back up, and there were [booms]on either side coming at me. I just started clawing at the logs and scrambled my way out. I don’t know how I got out, but I did.