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Capt. Greg Phillips joined Foss Maritime in 1989

By Hilary Reeves

Foss Maritime Captain Greg Phillips was recently named the 2017 recipient of the Michael D. Garvey Award for Distinguished Service in Safety.

“I’ve been at Foss for 28 years, and there’s no comparison between the safety culture when I first started and where it is today,” said Phillips.

The Port of Tacoma’s narrow Hylebos waterway tests all captains’ dexterity, the width of today’s larger barges alongside the 40-foot tugs leaving little room for error. The increased difficulty of night passages, combined with the feedback Phillips was receiving from other Foss captains led him to recommend policy changes that would allow barges to pass with less risk – including dispatching two tugs to lead the mammoth barges home, instead of a single boat.

“My great-uncle, Tom Crowley, was a captain at Foss; I have three cousins – Ray Crowley, Duane Crowley, and Willie Morrasse – that were captains at Foss; and I have three more cousins who work here now – Jim Crowley, Monte Crowley and Tyler Crowley – as well as my nephew, Dustin Williams. So I guess you could say that tug-boating is in my blood,” he laughed.

Phillips is currently the captain aboard the Delta Lindsey. He grew up in Lake Stevens, Washington, north of Seattle. He joined Foss in 1989, one month after graduating from high school.

“My career actually started while I was still in high school, one month before I graduated,” said Phillips. “My uncle, Chris Wolf, who was a dispatcher in Everett for the log boats that Foss had there, introduced me to Steve Spencer, and I started to come down on the weekends and training on the harbor tugs free of charge. After graduating in June, I was hired full-time as a relief deckhand, helping with odd jobs around the yard.”

Phillips worked until log exporting dried up, and then started aboard the two-week PNW harbor tugs. He worked on various boats until he landed a more permanent position aboard the Henry Foss, where he spent the next 10 years as a deckhand, learning to land barges and conducting the occasional ship assist.

“My plan was to be a career deckhand, but the captains that I worked for saw something in me, and after a few years of them hounding me I passed my Coast Guard exams and received my Inland Mate’s License. I sailed Relief Mate until I got enough time to sit for my Master 1600 License,” he explained. “I have many captains, past and present, to thank for all their knowledge that was and still is passed down – they all know who they are.”

Phillips’s first captain position was aboard the Wedell Foss, the same tug his cousin Duane Crowley ran.

“I thought that was pretty cool.”

Former Foss captain and current Puget Sound pilot Rodney Myers remembers Phillips from his decade aboard the Henry Foss.

“Captain Phillips was my deckhand on the tug Henry Foss,” Myers said. “When shifting barges and large fish boats, I could always count on him to work with care and have full focus on the job at hand. (Phillips) also had a natural ability to pilot barges and fish boats too from any dock or moorage, and whenever he had a chance he took great interest in learning how to drive and handle the Henry Foss. Usually when arriving or departing the Foss boathouse, I would be down on deck and he would be in the wheelhouse maneuvering the Henry Foss, as I knew that even though he was learning, the took his time to perfect handling the tugboat.  I believe he probably even handled the tug better than I ever did, and I knew back then (Phillips) would become a Foss captain in the future.”

Greg sits at the helm of the Delta Lidnsey.
Phillips in the wheelhouse of the Delta Lindsey.

Phillips said his greatest challenge apart from being responsible for getting his crew home safe to their families every day is training others to do what he does.

“It can get very difficult at times, because I get pretty particular about how I want (my crew) to drive the boat so that we can meet the demands of the job,” he said. “A typical day for me is pretty basic because of the awesome crew I have. We have more than 100 years of tugboat experience on here, and when you have a good crew, you know things are getting done that are supposed to get done, and it makes my life easy. I appreciate all their hard work.”

Ryan Meyer trained under Phillips.

“My personal experience with Captain (Phillips) started aboard the Wedell Foss, where I was a trainee,” said Meyer. “(Phillips’s) commitment to customer service, crew education, and – above all – safety were infectious, and set the standard I still work to achieve today. He’s a captain who lets his actions speak louder than his words.”

Phillips lives with his wife, Donna, daughter Dezerae, and sons Bryant and Brady – though he is often gone.

“I’m probably most proud of my wife and kids for putting up with me being gone for six months out of each year.”

His colleagues also appreciate the sacrifice. PNW Port Captain Joe LeCato has supervised Phillips for the past three years:

“In the past,, I have sought (Phillips’s) advice for matters of concern to the safety of the fleet and regard his judgment to be without flaws,” concluded LeCato. “I convened several review boards during the past three years. In each of those boards, our most senior captains evaluated his work and safe practices to be among the best, if not the best in the fleet. His contribution and willingness to take a leadership role among his peers is commendable. I regard Captain Phillip’s potential as unlimited, and he has my highest recommendation for this award and any recognition that should come with it.”