If you have any issues accessing this website, please call 206.652.1129 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the Pacific time zone.

Engineer Approached Problems ‘Like a Logic Computer’

By Bruce Sherman – This article first appeared in the April 2017 Issue of Towbitts, the official publication of Foss Maritime.

Does John Barrett, Director of Fleet Engineering, have any regrets about his 42 years at Foss?

“Not that I can think of, certainly nothing major,” said Barrett, who joined the company as a lowly oiler on the ocean boats in 1975. And he notes that the most positive aspect of his four decades with the company has been working with great teams of co-workers.

“It always has seemed like they have a common focus, whether they be the mariners on the boats, the design team for a new tug or the craftsmen in the shipyard,” Barrett said recently. “They all seem to pull together and work toward a common goal.”

Barrett, 64, retired on April 21.

The son of a Foss ocean captain, the late John Barrett Sr., Barrett rose from his entry-level position to become a chief engineer, working on the company’s ocean tugs, and came ashore in 1987 as port engineer. After a couple of years in that job, he went back to sea for 10 years before becoming port engineer for the Pacific Northwest Harbor Services fleet.

In 2005, he became engineering manager for the entire Foss vessel fleet, a job, which was later retitled director of fleet engineering.

Black and white photo of Barrett in a shirt and tie under a white jumpsuit.
Barrett, in a 1988 photo taken when he took his first shoreside job.

His most memorable projects include the Prudhoe Bay sealifts of the 1970s, the Sakhalin Island sealifts of the mid-2000s, and being on the design teams for the Dolphin-class harbor tugs and Arctic-class ocean tugs, the third of which is nearing completion at Foss Rainier Shipyard.

Other challenges successfully met included upgrades on the integrated tug-barge Thunder and Lightning after Foss acquired it in 2011 with the purchase of America Cargo Transport.

“We had it in yards in Singapore and the Philippines, and they are quite the negotiators,” Barrett said. “The travel and the language were challenging, but there was always someone around that was reasonably fluent.”

What does he believe made him a good engineering manager?

“When I encounter an engineering or other issue my thought process runs like a logic computer program,” he said. “Throw out everything illogical and narrow it down to possible logical conclusions and then define them further to narrow it down to the root cause or issue.”

He also tried to follow the example set by now-retired Foss President Steve Scalzo, and notes, “So well educated and polished, Steve was and is welcome and respected everywhere from Washington, D.C. to all of our worthy competitor and industry groups.”

Barrett believes he is leaving fleet management in good hands. His successor is Tim Stewart. Jerry Allen, overseeing the harbor fleet, and a yet-to-be named ocean fleet engineering manager will report to Stewart.

“Tim and Jerry are extremely talented guys, and they don’t need a lot of help,” Barrett said.

Stewart said Barrett has been a personal mentor to him and many other Foss engineers.

Barrett proudly holding his "Sea Warrior" award on a pier with Gary Faber, left, and Steve Scalzo, right.
In 2008, Barrett received a “Sea Warrior” award for operational excellence from Gary Faber, left, then president and COO of Foss, and Steve Scalzo, who at the time was president of the holding company overseeing Saltchuk’s tug-and-barge operations.

“John’s calming demeanor and logical approach to problem solving provided an everlasting example for us to follow,” Stewart said. “John truly placed family first, and many can testify that John stepped in to cover for someone to allow them to attend a family event. John is a true professional and genuine person. His contribution to both Foss and all those he influenced can never be repaid.”

In retirement, Barrett plans to pay more attention to hobbies he hasn’t had time for, travel with his wife of 45 years, Linda, and spend time with his seven grandchildren.

Through all the changes in the tugboat industry since he started his career, Barrett believes Foss has remained at the top.

“I’m proud of what Foss has accomplished compared to anybody in the industry,” he said.