Two years ago today, a man died, serving all of us. Did you ever look out from our Rockaway Beach and notice that cluster of cargo ships off in the distance, about 10 nautical miles out? A little more than half of all the imported goods come to the United States from cargo ships. Many of those come through the Ambrose Channel. They sit in those ships off Rockaway, sometimes for three days, because below the surface of the bay, from the tip of Sandy Hook to the south shore of Long Island, there are areas of shallow water that are navigation hazards. For over three centuries the mariners tasked with guiding the ships across this bar have been known as Sandy Hook Pilots.
These ship pilots are highly skilled navigators who know those waters very well. They operate in the area in several small "pilot boats," meeting these huge cargo ships out at sea, and sometimes literally climbing the side of the ship on a rope ladder, to then join the captain at the helm. They do this day and night, all hours, seven days a week. Their dress attire is a shirt and tie, with a dress jacket. Why? Merchants come from all over the world to our country. The pilots want to make a suitable impression. The busiest time is between 3:00 am and 6:00 am. Sometimes when I wake during those hours I gaze out the window, especially on winter nights when it's raining heavily and the winds are howling off the ocean. I see those ships lit up in the distance and I imagine one of those pilots making the dangerous climb up along the side, suit, and tie, to navigate that ship and its contents into our country.
Sandy Hook Pilot Captain Timothy M. Murray was one of those pilots. He died while climbing a ladder to board a cargo ship at the entrance to the Ambrose Channel at 10:30 pm on a Wednesday night, August 5th, 2020. Tim graduated from SUNY Maritime College and pursued a career of service in our waterways, becoming a Sandy Hook Pilot in 2007. A big-hearted family man, he was the epitome of two words used so commonly in the English language - "great guy." Tim's world revolved around his wife Erin, and their five children; Brennan, Rory, Grace, James, and Ella. He lived the values he taught his children; character, faith, love, and serving the community.
He was passionate about his job and knew how vital it was to the lives of all of us. And he knew that in his position he was the face of America for those who sailed into this harbor from all over the world. Making the most of that experience, he had baseball caps made with the words "Sandy Hook Pilot" across the top and gave them to his counterparts on the ship as a souvenir. He was so proud to pilot the first cargo ship into the New York Harbor with much-needed goods after the long shutdown caused by Hurricane Sandy. In the eulogy his wife Erin delivered, she summed up his character best: "He had no political agenda, no hunger for power, just his own moral compass, directing him to do the right thing in business and life." We certainly need people like that!
Timothy Murray has given so much in his relatively few years on this planet. His gift to me is the mindfulness to be grateful for every single thing I buy, or hold in my hands, and realize that it all came to me because of the passion and labor of men and women like him. I have known about the operations of the pilot ships for many years now, and I often thought about these men and women when I looked out at the ships. But now, I think of Tim, and a question comes to me, that I find familiar these days. Where would we be without people like Timothy Murray?
Joe Fox is a retired NYPD Chief, with over 37 years of experience, motivational speaker, author, business consultant, leadership/life coach, U.S. Department of Justice Medal of Valor Review Board Member, Board of Directors, Rockaway's 9/11/01 Tribute Park, Board of Directors 5Star Life Insurance Company, serving US Military and first responders, social media influencer and digital creator.