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North to Alaska, South by Barge: Voyage of a Reefer Tech

Posted on Mon, Jun 29, 2020

AML reefer techs in SeattleEvery fishing season, Alaska Marine Lines refrigeration mechanics (reefer techs) leave Seattle and make the journey north to keep Lynden's refrigerated containers (reefers) in top shape. The techs fly to Alaska and then accompany the loaded reefers on the southbound barges. These ride-along-with-the-reefer trips have been taking place for years, but the voyage of the reefer technician has not been well known. Until now.

Mechanic Greg Restad was so impressed with his off-site assignment that he decided to document his experience. Greg's notes provide a unique look behind the scenes of this annual effort to protect customers' fish and other refrigerated freight and maintain Lynden's equipment. It should be noted that Greg has 30 years of experience working on refrigerated equipment including working for Les Candee and Art Burg at Foss Maritime in the early 1980s.

According to Assistant Maintenance and Repair Manager Steve Tafoya, mechanics check around 3,000 reefers each year during the north-to-south trips. Most reefers last around 20 years, but with excellent care, they can last longer.

"We run a pre-trip inspection anytime a reefer enters the yard so we keep close tabs on all equipment and any emerging problems," Steve says. "It could be power, a leak, burnout of the evaporator motor or something else. The most common issue with reefers is a lack of communication with the tug. Our mechanics also check and service generator sets, make sure gear vans are stocked and that the GRASP reefer monitoring system, all plugs and time share panels are working," Steve explains. Everything is documented and becomes part of the service record.

Mechanics sleep on the tug when the barge is under way or in bunkhouses in Naknek, Dillingham and St. Paul. Meals are eagerly anticipated as the tug cooks are known for their gourmet cooking. "Naknek has a great bunch of guys and good accommodations," Greg says. "They made me feel welcome and fed me well. It's nice when I get a couple days to check out the yard and my units before loading because once they start loading, these guys move. Everyone pitches in to get us in and out of port. I never heard 'It's not my job' even when I had a container I couldn't fix that was located in the middle of the stack. They had to bring in a barge alongside and crane it out of the middle of my barge. 'It's no one's fault; it can't be helped; let's get it done' was their response."

It's not always smooth sailing. Sometimes parts have to be flown in to repair a reefer or an employee needs medical care. One tech was suffering from an abscessed tooth and had to come back to Seattle, so he traded places with the next tech on the list.

And then there are rough seas. On Greg's first outing in Naknek, he was worried when he heard about 16-foot seas on the voyage. "The 70-knot gusts almost knocked me off my feet in the yard, and then they told me we were going to leave," he says. "Thankfully, Captain Eric kept the wind behind us, charted sheltered waters and, by the time we got into the Gulf, the seas had calmed down to 10 feet. The crews were always great. They were polite and forgiving when I wasn't familiar with the program and ran me though the safety procedures and orientation. It was fun to see how fast I could don a survival suit."

Although the reefer techs are away from home for long periods, they are treated to delicious meals like prime rib and salmon prepared by the tug cooks. The views are pretty good, too. Eagles, whales, sharks and porpoises all share air and sea space with the barges and tugs in the North Pacific. For many reefer techs, it's a nice change of scenery from working in the Seattle yard.

"These techs are on the front line making sure our reefers are keeping the fish cold and the perishables fresh," Steve says. "They spend months away from home, family and friends to uphold the Lynden brand of service. We all appreciate the work they do."

Tags: Barge, Alaska Marine Lines, Lynden employees, Crew Experiences

Captain's Blog: Relief flights to Haiti - Experiences of Captain James Wallace and the Aircrew of 405

Posted on Fri, Jan 22, 2010

Captain James Wallace and his Lynden Air Cargo crew recently flew to Haiti as part of the disaster relief flight efforts. Captain Wallace shares his experiences and photos from their trip to Haiti:

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Captain James Wallace - Haiti Relief Flight Experiences

The disaster events of January 12th to the country of Haiti is proving to be a daunting Overhead shot of Haititask for the entire world community. Lynden Air Cargo in coordination with USAID and countless others is accomplishing the goal of providing seamless support to the Haitian community. The result of this tireless effort ultimately is saving lives. As a crew we were fortunate enough to be part of this great effort. The ground crews of Lynden and USAID in both Washington-Dulles and Haiti displayed unparalleled team work, that ultimately assisted the flight crews to maintain the highest standard.

Upon arrival into Haitian airspace the calamity of events was apparent. All air traffic control was maintained by 1 man with 1 radio. His professionalism kept control of an incredible situation. In the 2 hoursRelief flights - unloading in Haiti that we spent on the ground 50 aircraft came and went.  The airport ramp is no larger than 5 football fields that services a runway with one taxiway. Up to 20 aircraft from DC-3's to 767's littered the ramp at any given time. People strewn the ramp assisting others unloading and loading aircraft in order for them to return with more aid.

The coming days will be a daunting task for all who are aiding Haiti. The high standard of Lynden Air Cargo and USAID begins with everyone, including the Loadmasters, Mechanics, Dispatchers, Aircrew, and the countless others that it takes to operate at this level of merit.

We say thank you,

The Aircrew of 405

Captain James Wallace, Robert Willoughby, Billy Miller, Bob Lesko, and Ted Pederson

 
Photos: 1) Lynden Air Cargo's N405LC on approach into Haiti. 2) On the ground in PAP offloading supplies to UN.

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To learn more about Lynden's Haiti relief flight involvement, please visit our relief flights information page.


Related Blog Posts:
Relief flights to Haiti: Captain Chris Caden shares his experiences
Relief flights to Haiti: Inspirational experience on the ground

Tags: International shipping, Hercules, Lynden Air Cargo, Relief Efforts, Disaster Relief, Pilot Experiences, Crew Experiences

Relief flights to Haiti: Inspirational experience on the ground

Posted on Fri, Jan 22, 2010

Loadmaster Bob Lesko is part of a Lynden Air Cargo crew that recently flew to Haiti as part of the disaster relief flight efforts. Bob shared an inspirational story about his experience in Haiti:

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Loadmaster Bob Lesko - Haiti Experience

I have a little story for you on Haiti. On my last flight there I was greeted by the USAID rep and asked him for a couple of individuals to help with the offload. Haiti relief flights - Haiti locals helping to unload HercFifteen minutes later he returned with about 15 strong individuals, all local residents that they recruited. Well, some of them had seen pictures of airplanes but had never have been on an aircraft, period. So I took a little extra time to offload and had groups of 4 at a time come up and help and after we finished we all got together for a 15 minute photo shoot.

The faces and laughter that came from these people was priceless, especially after all they have gone through. It was terrific to share with them the little I had to offer and the memories that I will come home with will be treasured.

Bob Lesko
Loadmaster
Lynden Air Cargo, LLC

Photo: Haiti locals helping to unload a Lynden Air Cargo Hercules aircraft (photo courtesy of Northern Air Cargo).
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To learn more about Lynden's Haiti relief flight involvement, please visit our relief flights information page. 


Related Blog Posts
Relief flights to Haiti: Experiences of Captain James Wallace and the Aircrew of 405
Relief flights to Haiti: Captain Chris Caden shares his experiences

Tags: International shipping, Hercules, Lynden Air Cargo, Relief Efforts, Disaster Relief, Crew Experiences

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