Retiring Tustumena Captain Robert Crowley at the wheel. Jennifer Canfield photo
For the last 15 years Robert
Crowley has been a kind of year-round Santa Claus to the Southcentral
and Western Alaska ports that have relied on him as captain
of the ferry Tustumena. After 36 years with the Alaska Marine Highway
System, Crowley is retiring.
Crowley disembarked in
Homer this morning, completing his career with the trusty Tusty in
the same place it began in May 1976.
"When I was camping on the Homer spit and the ship
came in and I said, ‘That's the ship I want to work on," it wasn't to go to
work for the Marine Highway System, it was to work on this ship. So I guess
I've satisfied that dream. The more I think about it, the tougher it gets."
he was 15, Crowley started coming to Alaska to work on small
freight vessels and landing crafts. Over the years he'd run into former bosses
who'd gone to work for the Alaska Marine Highway System and they'd encourage
him to apply.
"One of my bosses was unable to hire me back one
spring and the ship was on Homer spit and came in and I wondered over and said,
‘How do I go about getting a job?' and I went to Seward and about a month later
I got hired.
he's spent a few short hitches on other Alaska
ferries, the Tustumena has always been Crowley's
main assignment. He hinted that the fast and easy money that came with pipeline
days in the late 70's was tempting but he stayed with the ferry, which he says
has brought a different kind of economic benefit to Alaska. He's excited about the two new Kodiak-area
ports the Tusty is serving, Ouzinkie and Old Harbor.
"For the last thirty years or so- heading out west
and adding ports as we go- it's changed quite a few communities. Made them a
little more vibrant, I think."
Crowley says he's a
little bit nervous about retirement but is otherwise looking forward to the
future. This summer he will relocate with his family to his wife's home country