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Crew Connection—A Family Out at Sea: The NEWPORT Crew

A hopper dredge in Houma, Louisiana.
Manson’s hopper dredge NEWPORT departing the Houma Yard for the Pascagoula Harbor Maintenance Dredging project in Pascagoula, MS. Photo credit: Beau Robert—Port Engineer

The crew of the hopper dredge NEWPORT is a fusion of skilled craftworkers with a variety of backgrounds whose success derives from years of experience and knowledge gained from working on dozens of projects together. In fact, some members of the rotating crews have worked together for more than two decades.

Compared to other dredges in Manson’s fleet, the crew on the NEWPORT is small. Still, the hopper crew’s hard work and skillful ability to complete projects smoothly have garnered respect within the organization and from fellow dredgers in the industry.

According to NEWPORT Chief Engineer Chuck Hardee, the NEWPORT’s unique dynamic stems from the crew’s collective understanding of trust, experience, skill, and treating each other like family.

Before joining Manson, Engineer Bill Ricks and Cook Jeff Mason—each retiring in Spring 2023—worked together for a different dredging contractor for more than ten years in the early 2000s.

A man on a treadmill
Third Mate Tanner Larison using the treadmill to get some laps in on his day off. Photo credit: Chuck Hardee—Chief Engineer

“Doug Kelley, Ramon Granada, and I have known each other for more than 20 years,” Bill says. “We learned the ropes of working on a dredge, and when the opportunity came to work with Manson, we followed one another.” In the dredging industry, it is common for fellow dredgers from various companies to connect and keep in touch with one another throughout the years. Some stay at one company for their whole career and others find opportunities to work elsewhere, often leading to old shipmates reuniting on a dredge, as is the case for some on the NEWPORT.

Three men at a retirement celebration.
The NEWPORT crew celebrated Cook Jeff Mason and Engineer Bill Rick’s retirement in March 2023. (L-R) Cook Jeff Mason; Dragtender Ramon Granada, and Engineer Bill Ricks. Photo credit: Juan Valdez—Dredge Operations Manager

The familiarity between each member has burgeoned into a cohesive unit on the dredge, with each member understanding the important roles of their fellow shipmates. “With the size of the crew and all our years working together, each of us has come to learn every role on the dredge,” Chuck explains. “If someone gets sick and is out for a day, any one of us can jump in and fill in for our teammate.”

The NEWPORT and crew are busy year-round, often performing routine dredging to maintain the depths of several federal navigation channels in the gulf region of the U.S. From October 2022 to February 2023, the NEWPORT crew mobilized to work on the Mobile Harbor Hopper Rental Maintenance Dredging project for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The project involved furnishing the NEWPORT and crew to perform maintenance dredging of the Mobile District navigation projects in multiple states, including Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida.

“We’ve done many jobs like this in the past, and we have a good crew ready to do the job,” says Deckhand Phil Salceda. Phil—who has worked on the NEWPORT for more than eight years—says the crew’s success begins with the seasoned veterans of the ship who’ve taught him skills beyond the responsibilities of his specific role. “The reason why the NEWPORT is a great dredge to work on is that the guys who’ve been here the longest are eager to teach the younger generation what they know,” Phil explains. “Continually working with someone for that time allows you to learn each other’s strengths, complete jobs safely and efficiently, and build a bond like no other.”

Each rotating crew lives and works 21 days together on the dredge. During these three-week shifts, members come together to keep the dredge in shipshape with their responsibilities. The crew has amassed an amusing collection of ‘Sea Stories,’ as Chuck likes to call them—short anecdotes detailing events involving the crew—many of which are personal tales of shipmates’ experiences on the dredge. “The only thing I can say about sea stories is that it begins and ends the same,” Chuck says. “The stories always start out with ‘This is no lie,’ and ends with ‘It has never been the same since.’”

After spending so much time together, the shipmates naturally bond and learn about each other’s lives outside of work. “Every person on the dredge is like a cog in the machine because of how well we all click together,” says Dragtender Dan Young. “We’ve spent so many years together that we developed a brotherhood out of work and even know about each other’s families.” Even on days off, the shipmates call each other to talk about their last rotation on the dredge or important life events pertaining to them or their family members.

Hailed as one of the most important members of the dredge by many on the NEWPORT, Cook Stanley Madison attributes the dredge’s large workload as the main reason crew relationships and dredge operations run smoothly. “The NEWPORT has created a unique relationship for many of the fellas on the ship because we work and live together in close quarters 24/7,” Stanley says. “We’ve grown close and even call each other on our days off. “Every shipmate respects one another because of the experiences we’ve all been through together.”

The familial ties of the NEWPORT have also extended their reach to the next generation, with the children of shipmates pursuing careers in dredging and some coming to work on the dredge. “We work with the son of one of the guys who used to work on the ship,” Dan explains. “I remember when his son was a little kid. I learned of his childhood and adulthood through stories from his dad, and now I work alongside him. The NEWPORT is special.”

A hopper dredge.

5 Facts About the NEWPORT

1. Joined Manson’s fleet in 1983. 2. Manson’s 1st self-propelled hopper dredge. 3. At its christening, the NEWPORT was the largest split-hull hopper dredge on the west coast. 4. Built at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders on Whidbey Island, WA. 5. The first hopper dredge with engines mounted on the drag arms.

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