Harry Poole is a native of Michigan, a competitive swimmer whose love of the water took root during his academic career at the prestigious United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.
By Hilary Reeves – This article first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Totem Ocean News.
“Two of my friends on the swim team who were a year or two older than me had applied and went there, so I decided to apply too,” Poole said. “Once I really got into (sailing), I enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t realize how much I loved it until I was actually there.”
After spending more than 300 days during his sophomore and junior years working on-site for the companies lykes lines, Gulf Oil and Mobile, he graduated in 1976 and moved to Scotland, where his son was born, and spent two years working on oil rigs.
After moving back to the United States in 1978, Poole took a job as an engineer in a New York hospital before deciding his place was on the water.
Poole has been sailing since 1979, has worked for TOTE Services since 1980, and joined Totem Ocean in 1992. A chief engineer at Totem Ocean for more than 20 years, Poole lives aboard the M/V North Star for eight to 10 weeks at a time, overseeing a team of five engineers and four unlicensed crewmen who repair and maintain all the equipment on the ship.
Alongside his sleeping quarters, Poole’s onboard office allows him to both monitor the ship’s performance and communicate with Totem Ocean, conveying any problems that have or may occur.
“My normal day includes a lot of paperwork,” Poole said. “I’m in direct contact with the company. If things go wrong, I’m the one communicating with them.”
Poole’s career with Totem Ocean included a three-year stint in San Diego beginning in 2000, where he was part of the design and building of two ships: the M/V Midnight Sun and the M/V North Star, the ship he is responsible for today. He counts the experience of taking a ship from contract to finish among the most memorable in his storied career.
“I lucked out,” he said. “Not many engineers get the chance to go through a whole shipyard from start to finish. I was there a month after they signed the contract for those ships.”
Poole who boarded the North Star on November 20, and won’t disembark for his home in New York until January 8, 2014. The ship runs weekly between Tacoma and Anchorage, and is rarely in port longer than eight hours.
“It’s nice to get off and get something to eat once in a while,” Poole said.
But Poole is most at home on the water.
“You see whales a lot,” he said. “You never get tired of that. Being on a ship can be just so beautiful. The other gorgeous part is traveling out of Tacoma and into Cook Inlet. I would love to go up (to Alaska) sometime and just travel.”
For now, Poole lives on long Island near his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.
“That’s one of the good parts of the job,” he said. “I can do almost anything I want during the weeks I’m not on the ship.”
After two decades with Totem Ocean, Poole has no regrets.
“We have good people on the ships,” he said. “To keep good people, you’ve got to have good people behind them. (Totem Ocean) is still a good company to work for. The ships are state-of-the-art, and they treat us well. But it’s mostly the guys on the ships that keep me going back.”
What do you do on the ship when you’re not working?
“Basically, I do a lot of reading on the ship. Mostly science fiction and adventure stories. It’s a great place to read; there aren’t a lot of distractions. We also have Direct TV on the ship. I don’t get into a lot of those popular shows, but the guys love that stuff. You’d be surprised at the difference in personalities out there.”
“I love the military cargo. It’s fun to get to see the Black Hawk helicopters and Stryker vehicles. The other fun thing is that we carry a ton of new cars going north. It’s always fun to walk around those.”
Have you ever been scared onboard, or had to issue an s.O.s.?
“No, not once in 34 years. I’ve been very lucky.”
Why did you choose to settle in New york, as opposed to one of your port cities or your native Michigan?
“I settled here because my son and his family settled here [on Long Island]. I wanted to be close to them when I’m off.”
What are you most looking forward to doing in the future when you’ve completed your final voyage?
“With this type of job, it’s a very lucky thing that if you want to do something you have time to do it. I think I’ll just continue doing what I do now. I love to take road trips across the country and meet new people.”