Exploring Lake Superior: To the rescue

Exploring Lake Superior: To the rescue

When boaters on the South Shore run into trouble, Tucker Culberson and Black Warrior Marine of Towboat U.S. Bayfield is called.

Lake Superior is beautiful, but she can also be brutal.

When boaters on the South Shore run into trouble, Tucker Culberson is often the first call.

“I’ve been around boats my whole life,” Culberson said. “When I was in high school, I was working for a sailboat charter business that had kind of a towboat rescue boat. I started going on that boat and kind of loved it, and then long story short, years later, I started this business.”

His business is called Black Warrior Marine, and he operates the Towboat U.S. Bayfield.

“Primarily, what we do is towing. So it’s kind of you’re broken down, engine problem, you’ve run out of gas, dead batteries. We see a lot of that,” Culberson said.

He gets around 100 calls a year. A lot of them come through an app membership program called BoatUS. With that membership, people don’t even have to make a call. They just alert Culberson through the app.

“Even the most experienced boaters in this area run into trouble,” he said.

If conditions are safe, he heads out to help in his ex-Coast Guard vessel.

“It’s kind of the right tool for the job,” Culberson said. “It’s all aluminum hull, it’s got the foam collar, a heated cabin with shock seats, so it’s really good in heavy weather.”

He carries equipment like towline, rescue and dive gear, and material to plug holes. He mostly operates as a one-man tow, but he’ll bring in a crew when they are pulling something that’s sunk.

“We’ve done a couple snowmobiles, we’ve had pickup trucks, all kinds of boats that have been on the bottom,” he said.

And if the vessels stay above water, he’ll offer tows from as far as 50 miles away.

“Somebody might be having like the worst day of their life and they’re panicked and upset,” Culberson said. “When we get on scene, just kind of calm them down, help them out, and usually at the end of the day, they’re in a lot better mood.”

He also volunteers to help search if someone is missing in the Bayfield area.

“Every year, you kind of learn something new, even after doing this for 12 years. You always kind of learn something new, and definitely develop the respect for Lake Superior,” he said.

He posts updates about his work on Facebook.

“There’s never a dull moment. Always a different day out there.”