Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Tale of Le Cheval Rouge

I was feeling nostalgic the other day and decided to do a little research on a vessel that had figured prominently in my early days in the oil field.

Mobil Oil used to own a tug boat named Le Cheval Rouge (The Red Horse - get it?). It pulled a construction barge that was used for a variety of construction projects in the shallow Gulf of Mexico. If you were an engineer with Mobil back in the early 80's, you became very familiar with them. When the industry slowed down in the mid 80's, it was just too expensive to keep them on the payroll so they were sold off. I wanted to find out what had become of her so I did an internet search and found out that the tug was now up in Alaska. I sent out a request to the Mobil retiree's list to see what folks remembered about her. Here are some of the responses I got back:

"The Cheval Rouge was built in 1979 or 1980 if I remember correctly and Jimmy, George and Santo went in a 14' boat and stole it out of the fab yard the day after the christening because the IRS seized the yard that afternoon and Ed (the Marine Superintendent) said he was not going to pay for it twice and he wanted it NOW!"

So, the IRS had impounded the shipyard for back taxes but our marine superintendent sent out a midnight search and recovery mission to get her. Back then, it was expected that managers would take action - not call a meeting to study the situation. The oil field was fun back in those days.

She was difficult to acquire and was just as difficult to get rid of. Here is the memoir from the guy who sold her.

"How did the Le Cheval Rouge end up in Alaska? Well, I sold the tug and the barge to a company in Seattle when Mobil decided it was no longer an asset.

Way back in those days decisions were made without the need of year long studies and 27 person committees with 17 teams reporting to the committee to determine if something was losing money. Seems the work was slow and the Le Cheval Rouge and her barges were just not being used enough to justify the maintenance. So, I was asked to do what I did best - make a deal. I advertised the Le Cheval Rouge and her barges for sale by sealed bid in some major Gulf Coast newspapers and the Wall Street Journal. After many phone calls and other dubious dealings with the locals in the general Gulf area who wanted to buy the tug under the table and avoid the sealed bid process, the successful sealed bidder was a company in Seattle. The gentleman was very interested and in a hurry to come down to Morgan City and sail the tug, with the barge in tow, through the Panama Canal and up the west coast to Seattle.

Sure enough, his money came in and he showed up in person to claim the prize. Unfortunately, he was in way too big of a hurry to sail away and managed to ground the tug and, after trying to free the craft with far too much torque on the drive, bent one of the propeller shafts. This put the Le Cheval Rouge in a shipyard for repair for about three months (and another hundred thou or so of this guys money). Well, the guy aggravated me for about two of those three months complaining that we sold him a defective vessel. Needless to say, in the end he had my sympathy, but I had his money. (Actually, even with the shaft repair he really got a great deal.)

Finally, the tug was "ship-shape" and waterproof, and off he went to Seattle. You would think this was the end of the story - but no. A couple of weeks later, about 2:00 AM I get a phone call at home from this guy all hot and bothered because the Coast Guard was now giving him a bad time. Seems that he was stopped for an inspection and the transfer papers were
not quite right and the Coast Guard was thinking this guy had a "hot" boat. The Coast Guard had some particular one page form that had to be filled out and signed by 6 angles, two saints and endorsed by the Virgin Mary and none of us even knew this form existed. At 8:00 AM that same morning I was on a flight to Seattle to straighten out this mess. A long story about a little Coast Guard fellow who either had a little bit of power go to his head or just didn't like my buyer. Anyway, after having the buyer's banker meet me at the airport and several trips to the Seattle docks and the bank, we had this "Act of God" signed, sealed and delivered - Oh, I didn't mention that I had to stop at the company president's house on the way to the airport at 6:00 AM that morning to get him to sign this silly form - he really loved that
one. (One of my dirt book photo Op's - Charlie in his "PJ's," but that's another story.)

So, I'm on a late evening flight back to New Orleans that same day, official copies of the United Nations Treaties and the Warsaw Pact in my grubby little hands, and I think, well, finally I have this albatross off my neck. Ho, Ho, Ho - for three years after that sale, one I knew had been now properly processed on every government and legal form know to man and woman, I periodically got phone calls from irate Coast Guard officers threatening Mobil with fines and imprisonment for various safety and other types of violations committed by the Le Cheval Rouge - which for some strange reason continued to be registered as owned by Mobil. The very first call told me the vessel had been moved from Seattle to some awful sounding place in Alaska without Coast Guard approval ?? Approval? That's a new one on me, but that was the complaint. So, I was always aware that the final resting place (at least as far as I know) of the Le Cheval Rouge was somewhere in Alaska. I have heard a rumor by way of Moscow, that the tug is now the back up boat for the Deadliest Catch on the History Channel.

I even once got a call from the FCC with a complaint that someone on the Le Cheval Rouge had used foul language over the marine radio. Imagine that - a sailor using foul language. So, I knew the whereabouts of the Le Cheval Rouge for many years."


Anonymous said...

I currently work on the tug le cheval rouge. I was looking for some pictures and I came across this story. The tug is alive and well is Skagway Alaska where it is now used as a ship assist tug. If you want to know anything about it you can email me at

AKTugger said...

Hello, I currently work on Tug Le Cheval Rouge and am working on building a information board about her. The vessel is primarily used as an assist tug in Juneau, AK and docks next to cruise ships. If you have any pictures or other information on this boat could you send it to me?