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J.W. Westcott Company and Crew
2005 awardee, Detroit (Wayne County), Maritime occupational traditions
In 1874 J.W. Westcott began a marine-reporting agency on the Detroit River. Since then, this small, family-owned company and its staff and crew have continued a tradition of delivering "mail by the pail," goods, and personnel to Great Lakes freighters as they pass through the Port of Detroit. Located on the river just south of the Ambassador Bridge, J.W. Westcott Company's small white and blue building serves as a hub for the maritime community.
During shipping season, J.W. Westcott Co. performs a very personalize, round-the-clock service for the shipping industry, supplying anything requested by the companies or the workers' themselves whether it is a new stove for a freighter, groceries for a steward, or a trip to shore. Canadian and American pilots are required to navigate sea-going freighters through the narrows of the Detroit River, and J.W. Westcott delivers them to the "salties" mid-river.
Westcott captains must master the dangerous maneuver of getting their vessel, often the 45-foot J.W. Westcott II, alongside of and maintaining the same speed as a freighter during the mid-river exchange of goods and personnel, then pulling away decisively so that their smaller vessel is not pulled into the wake of the larger freighter.
Many of Westcott's crew has worked there for decades as boat captains, deckhands, and dispatchers. Like other tight-knit occupational groups, they have developed traditional occupational customs, including an array of slang and nautical terminology, work techniques, nicknaming, pranks, radio conversation styles, storytelling and joke telling. In the face of such a dangerous job, humor in the workplace lightens the mood and puts coworkers at ease.
While on a delivery in October 2001, the J.W. Westcott II sank in the Detroit River, resulting in the deaths of a Westcott captain and crewman. The accident affected the entire maritime community. The Westcott employees directed and did much of the work to restore the J.W. Westcott II and put it back in operation in time for the next shipping season.
Owner Jim Hogan says of his staff, "the company and its participants have not really gotten rich monetarily but they've gotten rich with experience and time...their experience down here is in some cases priceless because of what they do. And it's a very unique thing that we're involved with. And we touch a lot of lives. We seem to be very important to a lot of people."
The J.W. Westcott company and staff are recognized with a 2005 Michigan Heritage Award for 100 years of unique service to the Great Lakes maritime community, for the real and symbolic community center the Westcott provides the maritime community, and for its staff's individual skills as master pilots, maritime raconteurs, and knowledgeable maritime tradition-bearers.
-LuAnne Kozma, fieldworker.
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