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Oct. 17, 2019
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Familiar tugboat leaves Lanier for oceanic adventures

By Jane Harrison
 
From the pilothouse of a sturdy little vessel, Brendan Mazur has gazed in awe at endangered whales and warmed a soggy owl. It was there he wrote his brother’s eulogy, received the blessings of a priest, and crossed Gulf Stream waters toward a painstakingly sought goal. And it is from there that Mazur hopes to continue his next chapter as a tugboat captain.
 
After 54 summers on Lake Lanier, Mazur bid a final farewell in August to the shores that birthed him in nautical ventures. Of all the monikers he could claim – professional logistician, retired army vet, sailing tycoon, homebuilder – the one he most identifies with is tugboat captain. Indeed, the classic recreational tugboat he has piloted on Lanier and the Atlantic bears his first name and that of the seafaring monk for which he was named.
 
“There are a few admirers of my boats,” said Mazur. He’s had four of the mini-trawlers that are compact enough to trailer back and forth between Lanier and Florida, tough enough to cruise the open sea, and small enough to squeeze at least a couple onto a driveway at his Alpharetta home. The St. Brendan, a Ranger 21 Classic, is his latest tug and the most recognizable on Lanier. It’s the one from which he plans to launch some new explorations off the Florida coast.
 
Tiny but tough
“As tiny as it is, it’s incredibly seaworthy and set up for coastal cruising,” said Mazur of the craft that looks like a work boat but serves as a vessel for dreamers espousing a “tug nut” lifestyle. Slightly behind the bow, a nearly 6.5 foot high pilothouse topped with shiny horns and a prominent searchlight rises above a railed deck with center and rear benches. The mast and VHF antennae tower over a snug cockpit. A broad coil of rope, the hand-knotted bow pudding, fends off frontal assault. Made by Ranger Boats on the Washington coast as a small replica of a Bristol Bay trawler, the rugged recreational tug has a reputation for reliability and seaworthiness.
 
“I love maintaining it, taking it on trips,” said Mazur, who has spent every summer on Lanier since he was in diapers. Named for Brendan the Voyager, a 6th century Catholic monk who, according to legend, may have sailed a leather-covered wooden boat from Ireland to the shores of North America, a young Mazur caught the passion of his namesake.
 
Son of a prominent Atlanta real estate developer, Mazur grew up in East Cobb County, summered at a family compound on Lanier, and vacationed at a beach house in Florida. On his father’s boats in Florida, he developed navigation skills. “That’s where the addiction starts,” he said. He got fired up about sailing when as a teen his family lived in the same neighborhood as cable TV pioneer Ted Turner, 1977 America’s Cup victor in his sailing yacht, The Courageous. Mazur mentioned that his first venture in a sailboat was with Turner on Lake Allatoona.
 
Gaining experience
Lured by the sea and lakes, the vessels that endure them, and the people who cross them, Mazur racked up numerous captain and seaman related certifications. Adrift between the coast and inland waters, he remembered the first time he saw a “cool looking boat” that could handle both and trailer easily between the two. “I fell in love with it, but I didn’t have the money at the time” to get one.
Fast forward several years to his last abode in Alpharetta where he practically collected the tugs in his driveway. “When it comes to boats I’m a Mormon,” he quips. “I can have two or more at the same time and my wife’s OK with it.”
 
It was his wife Ginger’s retirement after 36 years in a federal job that prompted Mazur to ponder points south. The couple headed for Amelia Island, Fla. at the end of August, leaving behind memories of the lake he knows so well. On a short farewell voyage from Mary Alice Park to Buford Dam on a sunny August morning, Mazur shared some recollections. “The lake looks and sounds a lot different today,” he said. “When I was a kid we might see seven boats on a Saturday.” He pointed out islands where he played, a baptismal spot in a cove, sites of boat tragedies and drownings, and the water park his three grandkids love.
 
He told how a nearly drowned owl, “looking like a wet muppet,” climbed his tugboat ladder, warmed itself by the pilothouse heater, and napped four hours before it dropped some pellets on him and took flight. He recalled pulling distressed boaters to safety and making heavy hauls during the Lake Lanier Association’s Shore Sweep. He whirled his tug around to scoop up a tennis ball floating on the lake. He won’t tolerate any scrap of litter.
 
Memories galore
Some of his tug memories are recorded in graffiti on the pilothouse walls, where he hopes to one day post the autograph of Tim Severin, the adventurous author who attempted to complete the Saint Brendan the monk’s legendary journey. It was in his captain’s quarters that he penned an honorarium before his brother’s funeral. Ceremonial flowers later adorned the boat during a priest’s blessing on deck.
 
Mazur has already logged several coastal adventures, including a solo non-stop tugboat voyage from Miami to the Bahamas. “I prepared two years for the trip, looking at every contingency,” he said. He rehearsed on Lanier, practicing setting anchor and re-fueling in route by himself. He anticipated challenges maintaining a course in rough seas.
 
On June 5, 2017 he held the St. Brendan steady as a storm popped up just after the trees of Bimini came into view. “I had just texted my wife to tell her I made it … when all hell broke loose.” In the whipping wind, he hoisted the traditional yellow quarantine flag signaling his approach. He was proud to raise the island nation’s Courtesy Flag on calm water after becoming the focus of “all the eyes of the yachtsmen” in the harbor and folks on shore.
 
His crossing was the second ever completed in a 21-foot tug, the first being accomplished in 2005 by Rick Huizi, who worked with the founder of Ranger Boats. “He was an inspiration,” Mazur said. “I accomplished what I set out to do, everyone should have that.” He intends to do it again, “probably next year.”
 
The Atlantic lured Mazur with experiences never found on Lake Lanier. He’s watched 50-ton right whales and their one-ton calves in winter off the Florida/Georgia shore. He’s gazed at nuclear submarines maneuvering near St. Mary’s. He’s welcomed numerous Coast Guard officers aboard the St. Brendan. “They like to board it and check it out,” he laughed.
 
Welcomed with a bang
The ocean welcomed the tugboat captain his first month at Amelia Island with a hurricane. Dorian sent him and Ginger back to Alpharetta, but not before Mazur took his favorite vehicle out for a spin. In a video clip entitled “the calm before the storm,” spray shoots over the pilothouse as St. Brendan’s bow slides easily over rushing whitecaps.
 
By the time Dorian hovered off the Florida coast, the Mazurs had come inland and St. Brendan was snugged away in covered storage in St. Mary’s. But probably not for long. The captain wants to experience his final chapter “doing something on a boat” and seeking new adventures. A tugboat cruise from Cumberland Island to Savannah, whale watching, and the open sea await. 

Posted online 9.27.19
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