It doesn’t take long when chatting with Captains Bruce White and Matt Wilder of Sea Tow Portland/Midcoast to come to the realization that the Maine-based franchise is far from what one would call “ordinary.” After all, it’s not often a Sea Tow captain is tasked with recovering a snowmobile that has fallen through the ice or bringing supplies to a U.S. Navy stealth battleship, but that’s what make the job so much fun for the franchise’s co-owners.
Captains Matt and Bruce have owned Sea Tow Portland/Midcoast since early 2015. Since day one, their combined experience has been a match made in heaven. Prior to Sea Tow, Capt. Matt worked in the passenger vessel business for 20 years and brings extensive industry knowledge to the partnership. Capt. Bruce came in knowing exactly what it takes to own a successful business after running his own construction remodeling company for over 25 years. In addition, Capt. Bruce has served as a volunteer fire captain, harbormaster and school board member, so his connection with the local community runs deep.
While their extensive experience is what prepared the two captains for a successful beginning as co-owners of the Portland-based franchise, it was fate that originally brought the two together.
“Bruce and I were doing a winter job together in a boat building shop and got to talking about owning a business,” Capt. Matt said. “It just so happened that the local Sea Tow franchise was up for sale and we had both been looking into it independently, so we decided to go into it together. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Since then, Matt and Bruce have formed quite a versatile team. The two captains alternate time on the water and taking on other roles, which allows a sort of flexibility that the typical franchise doesn’t get to experience.
“We make a great tag team,” Capt. Matt said about the dynamic the two have created as head captains. “Some days, Bruce will be running the show from dispatch and he’ll call me and say, ‘go here or go there,’ and then we’ll switch roles the next day. It’s nice to be able to put on different hats.”
Speaking of wearing different hats, the duo has many. In addition to the typical jobs – tows, fuel deliveries, jump starts and the like – Bruce and Matt have taken part in some of the most unique jobs Sea Tow captains have ever undertaken.
Earlier this year, the franchise helped escort the oldest Maine-built wooden fishing schooner still afloat, the Mary E, from Derecktor Robinhood Marina where it was recently launched, to its permanent home at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, roughly nine miles away.
While the 112-year-old Mary E is certainly the oldest ship Sea Tow Portland/Midcoast has serviced, they’ve helped lend a hand on the opposite side of the spectrum as well, with one of the most advanced vessels currently on the water.
The new, state-of-the-art Zumwalt-class U.S. Navy stealth destroyers – built at nearby Bath Iron Works – are certainly the most cutting-edge vessels ever to be assisted by one of Sea Tow’s signature bright yellow boats.
“Our relationship with Bath Iron Works has been unique,” Capt. Matt said. “Whenever they launch a Zumwalt for sea trials, they hire us for support. Whenever they need to run parts or personnel out to the ship, they call us. It’s been a really cool experience.”
But for Capt. Bruce, the job that sticks out most isn’t the $7.5 billion, 600-foot advanced fighting machine, but rather something much smaller and far less expensive.
One day, in the middle of winter, Capt. Bruce received a call from a local insurance company the franchise had worked with many times. About 90 minutes from the franchise’s home port, a snowmobile had fallen through the ice and needed to be pulled out. Not many tow captains have the wherewithal to take on such a unique job, but Bruce and Matt didn’t hesitate.
“I don’t think many Sea Tow captains can say they’ve every recovered a snowmobile,” Capt. Bruce said. “As a company, Sea Tow has helped salvage countless boats, but that was definitely a first.”
In addition to the unique jobs Bruce and Matt undertake, Sea Tow Portland/Midcoast is heavily involved in the local community. For the past six years, the franchise has partnered with the nonprofit Maine Island Trails Association by providing free memberships to each of the volunteer organization’s nine boats. The franchise also operates a water taxi service called Sea Taxi Portland, which launched last spring.
In all, the two captains say they love their jobs and relish the opportunity to spend every day on the water interacting with local boaters and helping in any way they can.
“We stay busy,” Capt. Bruce noted. “We have quite an area to cover with beaches, bold shore, hundreds of islands and the Kennebec River, but we manage to cover everyone and do it well. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”