On the job

Real world people working on the water

Authored by: Margaret Boyes

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Andy Farmer, Fleet Maintenance Superintendent, Island Tug and Barge Ltd.

After 18 years working as fleet maintenance superintendent for Island Tug and Barge, Andy Farmer can confidently say that there is no job he’d rather do. He speaks from experience when he says this, having just returned to the role after a two year stint working with Island Tug & Barge’s management team. Farmer’s the sort of man who could probably succeed at anything he put his mind to, but he found that in the new job he missed the people and equipment he’d worked with in fleet maintenance. So he recently asked for his job description to be changed, and now he’s back doing what he loves. On The Job caught up with Mr. Farmer to find out what it is that makes fleet maintenance so satisfying, and what it takes to do the job.

On The Job: Tell us about your current position. What does it involve and what are the challenges?

Andy Farmer: I’ve been the fleet maintenance superintendent of Island Tug and Barge Ltd. for 18 years. I have two main jobs: I look after the maintenance of the company’s tug and barge fleet, and I’m also on the project management team which does new construction and rebuilding of the vessels.

OTJ: Tell us about some projects you’ve worked on recently...

Farmer: I’ve just finished working as project manager on a new four-million litre fuel barge in Nanaimo, called the ITB Supplier. Before that I was on the project team for the Island Trader, which is our largest fuel barge that was built in China. I’ve also been involved with two other barges built in China, the ITB Provider and the ITB Vancouver. I’ve been going to China on Island Tug and Barge projects for 13 years now!

OTJ: How did you get into this job? What route have you taken in terms of education and experience?

Farmer: I took an apprenticeship in the marine engineering cadet training program at Riversdale College of Technology in England. After earning my diploma in engineering I went deep sea for a short while. Then in 1980 I immigrated to Canada and worked in the tug and barge industry. I worked in the Beaufort Sea for two years and also on the West Coast tugboats as a sailing engineer. Then in 1986 I quit working on tugs and worked in a oil refinery for three years while my wife and I started a family. After that I was hired as a port engineer by Island Tug and Barge.

OTJ: What does it take to succeed in your job?

Farmer: Confidence and patience! [Laughs.] A lot of patience and having a good team of people, both men and women, around you.

OTJ: What do you like best about your job, and if there was anything you could change about your job, what would it be?

Farmer: What I like best is the diversity — there are always new challenges. As far as changes, I want to take more courses in project management and to be more involved in planning and design, and that’s something I’m working on right now. I think that anyone who enjoys and takes pride in their work looks at ways to become better at what they do.

OTJ: What are your aspirations for growth in your job? Where would you like to be?

Farmer: I actually asked for a job description change recently. My position was moving from middle management into upper management but it wasn’t where I wanted to be, so I asked to be left alone and not promoted. I prefer to work with the crew and equipment rather than working at a desk in upper management, which I tried for two years. Now I’m back managing people rather than systems. People use the word “manager” very vaguely. I’ve found it implies two types of jobs: one is a systems manager where you make procedures and policies; the other is managing people. I prefer managing people and working with machinery.

Andy Farmer (centre of photo) helps remove the port Intercon barge connector pin from the tug Island Monarch for scheduled inspection. Assisting is Chet Rockwell of ITB (left) and an engineer from Intercon (right, on deck). Simon Hill photo


OTJ: Who are some people in your line or work that you admire or look up to?

Farmer: I’ve always looked up to Peter and Bob Shields at Island Tug and Barge. Peter is the owner of the company and is Bob Shields’ father — I first worked for Peter in 1983. I’ve also had a lot of support and encouragement from Susan Masi over the 15 years that we worked together. Susan’s father was Bill Dolmage (who owned Dolmage Towing and later managed Kingcome Navigation) so she grew up with the tug industry, and she worked in the office here at Island Tug’s maintenance facility until her recent retirement.

Outside of Island Tug and Barge, Marc McAllister is someone I’ve had a lot of respect for over the years. Marc used to work for Seaspan but now has his own consulting business. Overall, it’s a good industry with a lot of great peers. We actually used to get together every year, which was something I enjoyed.

OTJ: What has been the most memorable moment on your job?

Farmer: Whenever I’m given a problem to solve and my ideas come together and everything works out, it is memorable. The company owner gave me a lot of flexibility in design and construction in our latest project, the ITB Supplier. I took it from start to finish without much intervention so it was quite a personal achievement when the project finished successfully. Other memorable moments include going to China for the construction of the three new fuel barges. There are unique challenges to managing construction in a foreign country. My role at the time was to oversee the mechanical installations, and I got a real feeling of achievement from the projects — a feeling I’m sure the rest of the team shared.

The Island Trader project team celebrates the oil barge’s launch in China. Left to right are Darrell Handley from Comar Electric, with Dave Donnelly (Project Manager), Miss Leyung (Translator), Andy Farmer, and Leo Trudeau of Island Tug and Barge.

OTJ: If you weren’t doing this job what would you be doing?

Farmer: If I wasn’t working in tug maintenance here I’d probably apply to do the same thing at Seaspan or at another shipyard. I like shipyards because I like boats. I can’t think of any other profession I’d want to be in.

OTJ: What are your thoughts about the future of your line of work?

Farmer: There will always be a need to build, operate and fix boats, but there are certainly trends that affect the job. One trend is that there’s more and more new technology to help us comply with new environmental regulations, and I think this trend will continue, so we will always need to be upgrading our skills and equipment to keep up. Another trend is the increasingly high standards for crew safety and workplace comfort. One of the biggies in this area is noise reduction. We built a new tug which we put into service a year and a half ago — the Island Scout — and we were very successful at making it quiet, which really helps reduce crew fatigue. We’re not planning any new tugs right now, but we’re upgrading older ones to make them quieter, and there are other improvements we are working on as well. But all of these things require us to learn new techniques and technologies.

OTJ: Do you have any advice for people who want to do what you do?

Farmer: Young guys who work here and want to move forward ask me that a lot. The best advice I can give people interested in the marine industry is to get their education while they’re young, before they have too many personal commitments. It’s very difficult once you’re married and have children to find the time to work and go back to school. Some guys do manage it, but it’s tough. There is a good cadet training program here in Vancouver similar to the one I took. BCIT and the Pacific Marine Training Institute in North Vancouver have good courses. They have a four-year program and students spend time on the boats and at school to get their tickets. We’ve had apprentices here at Island Tug and Barge who now have their First class marine engineers ticket. It’s a good field to get into, because there’s strong demand for qualified engineers.

Pictures, top, courtesy of Simon Hill, others Andy Farmer
Margaret Boyes is a Victoria, BC based copywriter. She writes sales letters, direct marketing packages, e-mails, landing pages, web pages, brochures, sell sheets, case studies, newsletters and other communications that get leads and make sales. Visit her website for more information. This article was first published in Mariner Life Magazine, a Vancouver based publication, in February 2008.
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