‘Capt. Bill’: Ocean Tug Commander, Fine Musician, Too

Marine Work Compliments Local Man's Passion for the Arts
Jun 27, 2018
Courtesy of: Bill Brucato RIGHT LIFE PATH: Manahawkin resident Bill Brucato, pictured at the controls of the ocean tug Nicole Leigh Reinhauer, first wanted to be an artist. It turned out he made a fine seaman, good enough to become captain. But his art aspiration lives on in music and photography.

Meet Bill Brucato: loving husband and father, Manahawkin resident, passionate musician, and captain for the 118-foot ocean tug Nicole Leigh Reinauer. Based out of New York, the 20-year-old vessel regularly tows a 459-foot cargo barge often hauling 6 million pounds of gasoline and oil.

“To dumb it down, we move everything that keeps your car moving and keeps your house warm in the winters,” he said.

Capt. Bill, as he is known musically and professionally, was raised along the New Jersey coast and has been exposed to the tugboat industry for as long as he can remember. His father was a captain, and when young Bill graduated from high school, he began working for his dad. “I did not have much choice in the matter. I did not do well enough in high school with grades for math and English to get into the schools I wanted to go to,” Brucato said.

As a teenager, he aspired to be an artist. But when his college plans didn’t pan out, he went to work for his father instead.

“After I spent a year with him on the boat, I found that I excelled at it,” he said. “And within a few years I was captain on that boat with the same crew. So the same crew that taught me was now my crew.” Brucato has been on his current boat for over 15 years.

In his off time, he continues to do some artwork, in addition to performing guitar and singing at area restaurants and bars with a repertoire of hundreds of songs. Some favorite artists of his are Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and The Allman Brothers Band. He began playing when he was in his early 20s and has been growing and refining his skills ever since.

The tugboat captain of 40-plus years may be an occupational expert, but he says he has a lot to learn. “I am as high as I am gonna go because I do not choose to go any further,” he said. “I do not think I am smarter than everyone else; I know that I am able to learn from other people on an everyday basis.”

Although he makes his living on the boat, he doesn’t think of it as work.

Brucato has been married to his wife, Donna, for 43 years and, with her assistance, he was able to build his career. He gives her a ton of credit for many of his accomplishments. “She was basically my tutor,” he said. “When it came to studying for licensing and things like that, she would quiz me before I would take my exams. Man, she was tough!”

Donna is no stranger to life on the tugboat because she used to go on trips with her husband. He said he enjoyed having her aboard because she found experiences such as whale sightings and other encounters with nature to be artistically inspiring.

“She is an amazing life partner,” Brucato said.

Although working on a tugboat can be dangerous and scary at times, beautiful sights are an everyday occurrence, and that is what he lives for. He is a photography enthusiast and claims the best part of his job is the daily sunrises and sunsets from his “office.”

“Some vistas that I have seen will literally blow your mind. Sometimes I stop and say to myself, ‘I cannot believe I am looking at this,’” Brucato said.

On the other hand, he has also run into some not-so-beautiful sights – one time he was caught in the eye of a storm and turned around to see only the face of a wave, unable to see the top of it.

Brucato transfers his passion for his work into mentoring others. “I start grooming them and showing them how to upgrade their license, and I teach them the skills that I have learned through the years. And I am proud to say that four of them have become captains on other boats.”

His hope is, if he decides to retire – though not anytime soon – he will continue to teach.

— Johnny McGinley

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