How the Fireboat John J. Harvey Was Invited to “Do Water”


Photographed from the foredeck of USS New York.

Dear Friends:

My heretofore unpublished photo of the venerable retired Fire Boat Harvey “doing water” as an unscheduled  salute on the 10th Anniversary of 911 is featured with the anecdote behind how it happened, during my Wall Street Journal assignment for the anniversary in 2011.

“”  is a new and exciting “in-depth” website featuring the NY Waterfront this week.



How time flies when you’re having fun driving (and photographing) boats. After 5 years, I was required to re-new my Master’s 100 ton license permitting me to commercially operate  steam, motor, or auxiliary sail vessels in Federal waters and up to 100 miles off the coast.

Today I received my renewal.

As many of you know,  at age 18, along with my brother, Joe, four years previously, we received our mariner’s “Z” card; shipping out as Ordinary Seamen on a re-flagged Zim Israel Navigation Company trans-Atlantic bulk cargo ship: m/v Tamara Guilden.   The “Z” card is no longer extant (nor is the Tamara Guilden).  The “Z” card is simply an MMD or Merchant Mariner Document.

The m/v Tamara Guilden  at 500 feet long, was small compared to today’s Panamax and even small “handy max” ships. We  carried  30,000 tons of Grade 2 wheat from Texas Cargill grain elevators to the Dagon grain silo at the Port of Haifa, Israel.    The ship operated under Public Law 480 which in part, underwrote US agricultural crop support by distributing American crop surpluses. The law, sponsored by then Senator Hubert Humphrey stipulated a percentage of vessels carrying the surplus must be American “bottoms,” hence ZIM got in on the act by re-flagging one of its classy vessels, with an American Captain and crew; including Joe and Jonathan Atkin!  Also on deck we had interesting cargo of a different sort, F-4 Phantom jet aircraft and missiles, all encased in saltwater protective plastic. We were “of interest” to Cuban Migs buzzing us at mast height, and Mediterranean submarines (nationality unknown) following us..or at least their periscopes did.  Crew grumbled we should have gotten war zone pay!

Side note: the author of PL 480 by the way, written for Senator Humphrey was the late Maury Atkin. That he was on the board of Zim shipping didn’t hurt the re-flagging either!

Side note: 2. Maury Atkin also had a Master’s license issued in the 1960’s and later re-issued at a larger rating in Trust Territories of the Pacific… His original license, was for only 16 tons….not 100 but I dare say he was and will always be a far more skilled mariner than I can ever hope to be. 

Side note 3:  The former Masters license was a gorgeous printed, affair with a simulated engraving and all kinds of visual wonderment…far more interesting than most college degree certificates…a bold and visually arresting document that most Captains were proud to frame in the wheel house. (a recent email after I posted this, from a USCG friend mentioned that on the reality TV Show “Deadliest Catch” a crewman was filmed griping about the new documents…..rather than the former more glorious it ain’t just my perception!!.)

Today it has been reduced in the name of efficiency to a “passport” format booklet…no longer gorgeous tho sports a handy dandy plastic pocket for our TSA issued “TWIC” security credential. Simply utilitarian.  While the good looking “Z” card has long been passed over to a plastic card, its rating is now included on my Master’s Credential…so I’m officially licensed to be a full Captain with 4 stripes on my shoulder and drive a boat up to 100 tons as well as don overalls and rigorously chip paint on the deck of any vessel of any size.

Below is the current “passport” version and the former beautifully printed license.

fair winds

Harbor Safety In Jonathan’s NYC Helo! Marine Radio Installed.

Up until now, no charter helicopters in the 2nd largest port of the US featured marine radio frequencies built in to their aircraft. Always baffling.  Previously, to insure VHF Marine communication, I’ve dutifully & painfully taped the ear buds from my hand held VHF marine radio to my ears, under the standard aviation head phones.  Now, as a team, my pilot and I are pleased  to announce, in our  effort to provide clients with the safest marine helicopter/photographer/pilot team in NY/NJ harbor, we have fully integral marine radio VHF.  Not only does this create better situational awareness, for all marine agencies, but we can now easily “navigationally choreograph” with a ship’s pilot, the movements that help create the iconic photographs we are known to produce. (Additionally, for redundant safety review, we record all radio transmissions including auto audio notifications during our entire flight as well videotape  the flight from first rotor spin to landing of every flight movement and adjacent aircraft.)  SAFETY FIRST!!! 




Many comment, when they see me on land, as opposed to in the air or on a vessel, about my bright red shoes.  Thinking its a fashion statement, there is a grin and often a wish, that deep down, the viewer wishes he or she could wear red shoes with their Hugo Boss or Tommy Hilfilger suit.

While my bright red shoes have become a trademark; they began during OPSAIL 2000 with a security discussion in the office of the USCG Commander in Norfolk.  He was concerned his “assets” might not all realize who I was, or that I had clearance flying inside the security perimeter of the USCG Eagle with my helicopter or later, approaching the tall ship on the James River, via a chartered launch.

So, taking a page from the White House security, as press members are assigned a differing colored lapel pin, with the color only revealed the morning of the visit, I pointed to my then Red Nike’s and saId, “Commander, notify your people to look for the RED SHOES.”

And so it was..and it is to this day. I fly with red or as in this photo, “USCG Orange” shoes. 

Aboard Ecuador’s Tall Ship: GUAYAS In NYC Harbor

My sailing aboard Ecuador’s sail training ship Guayas for OPSAIL this year was noticed by Louisa Curtis of Chatterbox.  She posted one of my photos, shot from 80 feet up on the foremast, in her informative blog: Scroll down and see my pic!

Ten years ago, I sailed for a week aboard the Guayas and re-visited her for the combined Fleetweek/OPSAIL last month for a glorious entrance into NYC Harbor. ?u=a4c2f194436d310a10f1b9fea&id=a5cf4d7d64&e=FV9F37gfa4