A Rantum Scooting Flaneur

Fri, 08/19/2022 - 1:45pm

The French term Flaneur basically translates to: a loafer, a stroller, an observer. It’s a simple word loaded with context; however it best describes a person who wanders around with no particular purpose, agenda or destination. Similarly, an old Yankee term I’m also fond of is based on two words that are probably derived from Latin. The term is Rantum Scoot. Both of these terms hint at or denote a person who is out and about with no other reason than to be out and about. In the deadlined and schedule-driven world we live in, I find that I’ve become a Rantum Scooting Flaneur. Over the years I’ve earned my slack time and enjoy actively doing nothing, and
going anywhere in particular. I like not having a schedule and more importantly not having an agenda - especially while not clocked in at the ferry dock.
As an aging member of the tribe I have found that doing things with no agenda such as sailing my old boat, can open up the possibilities of noticing lots of comings and goings in Newport Harbor and at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. On any given tack while sailing out toward Beavertail on the southern tip of Jamestown, it is interesting to note the amount of marine traffic heading north and south: tankers, tugs and tows, cruise ships, mega yachts, kayaks, canoes, jet skis, windsurfers, and kite boarders. We can see just about every imaginable sailing vessel coming and coming into the bay and Newport Harbor; there is lots of visual stimulus to be seen in the summer boating season. Moreover, sailing these waters can be relaxing and informative from a commercial shipping point of view.
A Narragansett guy named John Rooney sails with me sometimes during the summer (John’s dad Captain Matty Rooney hired me at the ferry in 1974), and he has a solid take on the merchant traffic coming into, and leaving Narragansett Bay. John works as the evening dispatcher for the Northeast Pilot’s Association. Northeast Pilots covers the coast from the Cape Cod Canal to City Island, New York and they are in operation 24 and 7, and 365 days a year. John’s job entails managing pilot assignments, being aware of tides, and who has the correct operational licenses. Moreover, he manages the pilot boat crews who put the pilots on ships, and also take them off their assigned vessels. Although sailing to nowhere in particular with John Rooney, it’s always interesting, and I always learn something new. For example: “Joey, a car carrier should be coming around the north end of
Jamestown in about five minutes.” Five minutes later, there’s the ship turning the corner. One day a tanker was heading to sea from the East Passage and I asked:
“John, how fast do you think that ship is moving?” (It was a 600-foot tanker.)
“About 15 knots,” he said, “but watch her bow wave. He needs to slow down on his approach to the bridge.” (Sure enough, a few minutes later the bow wave decreased to half its size as the tanker slowed down as she neared the Pell Bridge.)
“Where will he drop off his pilot,” I asked.
“East of Castle Hill,” he said.
Twenty minutes later the Northeast Pilot boat was headed out to collect the pilot who will make his way down the accommodation ladder on the starboard side of the ship to go ashore in Newport or Jamestown.
While John and I sail aimlessly in the bay, we see commercial traffic that is on a rigid time schedule to get from point A to point B. And, a small misstep in this flow of traffic can have big implications. “It’s a great job and you never know what to expect when the phone rings,” says Rooney, “there can be weather and pilot changes, delays and issues with shipping agents.” This is a job that keeps John Rooney alert, and in a position where he must
think quickly and act, because ships entering and leaving the bay must have expert eyes in the wheelhouse to monitor the vessel’s progress. The pilot acts in an advisory capacity to give input to the ship’s master. Interesting stuff to observe while Rooney and I sail to nowhere in particular.
A few weeks ago I was out sailing between Jamestown and Castle Hill. I made a note on Facebook to become part of my summer sailing scrapbook. I received a note from a former Block Island Ferry sailor whose name is Nate Lopez. “We’ll be inbound from the Canal in about forty-five minutes,” said Nate.
“Honk at me on one whistle, I’ll be near the Dumplings,” I replied.
“Will do,” he said.
Lopez is an Able-Bodied Seaman in the Merchant Marine, and sails on a tug named Rainbow. She is owned by McAllister Towing of New York. However, the tug still operates under the name of the storied Providence
Steamboat Company.
What John Rooney and Nate Lopez are part of is an enormous puzzle with big pieces that are involved in mathematical precision involving time, speed, and distance. Furthermore, time is money and money is time in the maritime shipping business; there is no room for error for either of these men. It’s a costly enterprise and it must be done safely and expeditiously. The day Nate and I passed each other just south of the House on the Rocks near Jamestown, besides seeing the IMOCA Class foiling boat Malama I also saw the USCG Sailing Barque Eagle, as she was heading out of the bay. She was bound for sea on a training cruise for officers at the United States Coast Guard Academy. While passing her while aimlessly heading into the bay, I sent a text to John Rooney and asked him if she needed a pilot.
“No, she’s U.S. Flagged,” he said, “a non-U.S. vessel over 200 feet must have a pilot. Other vessels over 200 feet can take one if they wish, and pay for it.” I never knew this. Finally, the next time I head out to sail as a Rantum Scooting Flaneur, I’m sure I’ll be learning something new whether I want to, or not - especially if John Rooney is aboard.