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Eric Nyce: ‘On the day I was approved to begin substitute teaching, my former manager here…reached out to me with a job opportunity. I’m still going strong 12 years later.’

When Eric Nyce joined Cook Inlet Tug & Barge (CITB), he held no United States Coast Guard credentials. His first job was working on his family’s commercial set net operation outside of Kenai, Alaska. He went on to work as a carpenter, delivery driver for a pharmacy, and spill responder on the North Slope.

“I had a great childhood,” he said. “Like many people who grew up in small-town Alaska, I developed a passion for skiing, biking, hiking, and boating at an early age. I was also fortunate to be born into a family that owned a commercial set net fishing operation, which provided me an incredible opportunity to spend my summers on the water and a unique skill, as well as a tireless work ethic, which has translated well to my current job as a professional mariner.”

Nyce attended Western Washington University in Washington State, earning a degree in history with the hope of one day being a teacher.

“Life works in funny ways, and on the day I was approved to begin substitute teaching, my former manager here at CITB reached out to me with a job opportunity,” he said. “I’m still going strong 12 years later.”

Inland waters

Since joining CITB, Nyce has worked his way up the hawsepipe, attaining a 1600 Master Inland endorsement with a master of towing. He’s currently a Mate on the Stellar Wind.

“One of my more memorable experiences with the company happened in the first three months I was working here,” he said. “Two captains and I were transiting back to the Port of Anchorage after completing an ice escort. Strong winds had been anticipated out of Turnagain Arm, but no one realized we would experience hurricane-force winds. The seas rapidly grew to 20 feet, and the waves were stacked right on top of each other. Other than having our floodlights taken out and a huge mess in the galley to clean up, we passed across Turnagain Arm without further incident. The experience was an eye-opener as to how extreme and volatile the weather can be. I felt very fortunate to be working with such a skilled crew that could manage the conditions without incident.”

At CITB, Nyce continued, mariners pride themselves on not being pigeonholed into one particular role.

“I participate in all tasks which are present on tugs, from oil changes, cleaning bilges, cooking, prepping and painting our decks, operating the tug throughout the Cook Inlet in variable ice and sea conditions, skillfully performing ship work, and ice mitigation for ships docking in the Port of Anchorage,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges Nyce has experienced professionally is the limitation of attaining all his sea days within the Cook Inlet, which is deemed entirely Inland waters.

“This is the case, despite the Cook Inlet having the second-largest tides in the world, extensive ice coverage for half the year, and large enough seas that ships are forced to find safe anchorage to avoid traveling through,” he explained. “Despite having attained a broad skill set from work within the Inlet, my lower-level license has so far limited the career opportunities available to me.”

Continuing education

Nyce said – if he could do it all again – he would have attended a maritime academy right out of high school.

“I wish I’d known about and gone to Cal Maritime, though I’m happily employed here at CITB,” he said. “I enjoy continuing education. After receiving the highest license available in my scope of operation, I began studying to receive a certification in small vessel marine surveying. With a busy family life, I’m still unsure if this is a side hustle I’ll look to establish on my time off, but the knowledge gained is invaluable in terms of rounding out my skills as a mariner.”

For the 2019 Mariner Incentive Program, Nyce created a barge landing training program and has been working with new mates on the best standards and practices at all the common barge landings they work.

“I’m still working on my ability to adapt to new crewmembers’ various personalities and abilities,” he said. “Being able to embrace the positive attributes that people bring to the table rather than focusing on the negatives creates a much happier work environment and has served me well once I learned to embrace it.”

His ultimate goal is to join a pilot’s association.

“It’s the pinnacle position a mariner can achieve within the industry, and I hope to one day join this elite group.”

Nyce walks across a catwalk poised over icey waters.

Alaska’s premier tug company

Nyce said spending time with his family is a priority since he learned to embrace shift work.

“I have two young boys and a great wife,” he said. “We love traveling and showing our boys as much of the world as we can. Before having a family, I spent all my free time downhill and telemark skiing. I’ve had several seasons where I logged well over 100 miles a day on the slopes. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of money to be made at this – despite my best efforts – and I had to face the reality of finding a career. Initially, I struggled with shift work. Being gone half the year was a definite transition, but over time I’ve come to love the schedule. As my wife has a lot of flexibility with her work, we’ve been able to travel far more than I ever thought possible. This never would have been a reality without a good job that provides the time off needed to travel.”

He also still loves commercial salmon fishing in the summer.

“This is a family tradition that I could never give up,” he said. “I feel fortunate to have landed with a company that cares about these family traditions and will help to coordinate my schedule to allow me to continue to participate in the fishery. I have a lot of loyalty towards CITB and my managers for helping to make this a reality.”

As he’s grown into his career, Nyce said CITB has grown as well.

“It was a ‘mom and pop’ company and the safety protocols we have in place now were not a focal point then. That said, I was immediately impressed with how skilled and hardworking most of the crew were. There’s always been strong coordination between crew and an effort to look out for one another to make sure everyone goes home safe at the end of the day. I think the sky’s the limit for this company. The amount of growth we’ve seen since CITB was purchased by Saltchuk in 2011 is staggering. Hopefully, the company keeps growing on the same trajectory and we continue to establish our position as one of the premier tug companies in Alaska.

Check out Cook Inlet Tug & Barge in action in this 2020 episode of “Extreme Ice Machines.”


Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.