Captain Profiles

Captain Profile: Capt. Emile Dominique SCF Towing

Capt. Emile Dominique
Capt. Emile Dominique

Capt. Emile Dominique of SCF Marine was born in New Orleans and grew up in Donaldsonville, La. He told The Waterways Journal, “I’ve seen towboats going up and down the river my entire life. But, other than watching them, I never gave them a passing thought. I didn’t come from a river family. I was the first towboater in my family. Subsequently, my brother, his son, my son and two other nephews followed me out here.”

Dominique first learned about towboat jobs through friends who were longshoremen with Cooper Stevedores at Darrow, La. In July 1981, two months after he graduated from high school at 18, he started as a deckhand on the Capt. ESC at Darrow Fleet.

Dominique wasted no time improving himself. “Twenty-two months later, I got a second class OUTV. Two months after that, in July 1983, I got my first wheelhouse position on that boat, and I later upgraded to a full OUTV.”

Dominique estimates that over the last 34-1/2  years, he has ridden, piloted or captained more than 80 boats, ranging from 600 hp. to 7,200 hp., “including most of a year on a 2,800 hp. direct reversible, the old L.W. Sweet, which at the time was the Ann Murdock.

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“Like many others, I started out line hauling on small boats, 1,200 to 1,800 hp., and worked my way up from there,” he said. For a total of 16 years, with five different companies, he ran fleet boats between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. On his days off, he sometimes worked for several other companies. For seven months, he worked in a fleet in the Little Rock, Ark., harbor.

“I’ve been on line haul boats for a total of 18 years,” he said. “There was a year and a half between stints in fleets from 1987 to 1990 when I worked for Arkansas River Company. Then I left fleet boats for good in September 2001 with Western Rivers Boat Management.”

Highlights And Rescues

Some highlights stand out for Dominique. “In May 1983, a week and a half after I got my license, while I was steering on the Capt. ESC at Darrow 172 fleet, I got to witness the Robert A. Kyle push its 83-barge record tow between Point Houmas and Bringer Point.”

But the kinds of memories that stick are not all of records broken. Dominque recalled, “March 17, 1985, was my first day on the Warren P. Dufrene, which is now the Miss Kim. The river was high, the current was running pretty good and it was very windy. We were shifting barges on the first anchor block above the ship’s berth at Mississippi Mile 175. I happened to notice a commercial fisherman and his wife in a large wooden skiff running upriver. Five or 10 minutes later, I noticed pieces of wood, an ice chest and a gas tank floating down the river. I was wondering where that came from, when I realized that clinging to the gas tank and the ice chest were the two people I had seen in the skiff. The boat, beating against the waves, had its bottom come apart. We broke out our boat and headed over to rescue them. By the time we got them out of the water, we were between the ship’s bow buoy lines and 150 feet from the bow of the ship. Another 10 seconds and I would have had to abandon them.”

That was an eventful year, Dominique recalled. “In December of the same year, the southbound Mississippi Queen collided with the Crimson Glory, breaching its hull. The captain turned around and grounded the Queen on the sandbar at Wade Hampton. We were the third boat on the scene to help hold them up from sliding off the bar. When they decided to evacuate the passengers, we assisted in ferrying them to the landing.”

Graduating To Line Boats

Dominique spent 10 years with Western Rivers, 3-1/2 on fleet boats at CGB 164 and another 6-1/2 years on line boats. “That is where I started pushing bigger tows, and I learned quite a bit working for them. During that time, I rode nearly every boat they owned. I was once on three different line boats in less than a 24-hour span.”

For the past 10 years, Dominique has been with SCF Towing. “I was hired by Bunge Towing Inc. in April 2008 as a pilot on the Susan K in August 2009.  When SCF and Bunge started SCF Bunge Marine, SCF brought in three boats to join the Bunge Towing fleet of three boats, and I took a captain’s job on the Laurie S. Johnston.”

Dominique is especially proud of his latest assignment: “In January 2017 I was privileged to become cap- tain on the industry’s first triple-screw Z-drive line boat, the SCF Vision.”

Success Has Many Sponsors

Dominque credits many people for his success. “The people who had the most impact on me with SCF are the ones I worked more directly with when we were still Bunge Towing Inc.: Mark Hazzard and Delton Clanton in the office, and Mike Davis, Raymond Timmons and Bill Seely on the Susan K. Bill and I relieved each other as captains on the Laurie S. Johnston. Their influence helped me to be a better captain and a better wheelman in general.”

He makes sure to credit one person in particular: “It takes a special kind of woman to be the wife of a towboater. My wife and I will have our 34th wedding anniversary this year. I tell young couples, be committed to your relationship. If you are committed to your relationship, you will be committed to each other. Endure the bad times and enjoy the good times.”

Dominique says wheelhouse electronics are the biggest change he has seen in his career. “We’ve come from just a radar, a swing meter and maybe a flasher for a sounder, to radars you don’t have to cover in order to view during daylight, sounders that actually show the bottom, GPS, AIS and electronic chart systems. The GPS started out showing only headway or sternway, but later came to also show lateral slide. The AIS by itself helped take some of the guesswork out of meeting situations. But when these things were combined together with an electronic chart program, I wonder how we ever got by without them!”

He adds, “The Corps of Engineers has made many improvements to the river. It is in great condition for navigating.”

At SCF, the biggest change Dominique has seen is the construction of the three new triple-screw Z-drive line boats. “They are works in progress to get the bugs out, but their performance is very impressive. The ease with which these boats can steer a big tow has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.”

To young crewmembers, Dominique advises, “Be observant. Pay attention to how things are set up and how things are done. Be honest and trustworthy. Making these virtues part of who you are when you’re young, pays huge dividends as you get older.

“When people find out what I do for a living, they sometimes try to make it a big deal. I tell them it’s unlike anything they will ever do on the bank, but it’s just a job. Fortunately for me, it’s a job I really enjoy doing!”