In between his other jobs, Eddie Lucas spent several seasons as a crew mate and later a bosun on the reality TV show “Below Deck,” which pits overworked and overtired yacht crews against the expectations of their ultra-rich clientele.

But after calling out the show for how it compensated the cast who worked as crew members and service staff on the yachts, Lucas is putting his television gig aside for now. In the meantime, he has other things to focus on.

A couple of months ago, Lucas, who grew up in Towson, finally achieved a personal goal: becoming captain of a Baltimore tugboat, the Lynne Moran. It took him a decade.

Out of a sense of nervousness, Lucas waited until recently to announce the promotion on Instagram. He agreed to sit down with The Baltimore Banner and talk about growing up outside the city, his new home in Hampden, the tedious journey to becoming a tugboat captain and whether it’s more or less grueling than being a boson on “Below Deck.”

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Our conversation below was edited for clarity.

How did you get into sailing and being out on boats, and how did it become a profession?

During the summers, I’d always go up to Massachusetts. My dad had a little 15-foot MAKO, and we would always go out fishing and just spend a lot of time at the beach. So we were always around the water in some ways. And then, when I was 17, I started working over at a summer camp on the Eastern Shore called Echo Hill Camp. That’s where I got my first captain’s license, as soon as I turned 18. I started teaching water-skiing and sailing and just driving motorboats around. I worked there for many summers.

After I graduated college, I started working professionally on this cruise boat called the Spirit of Philadelphia. We had lunch cruises, dinner cruises and midnight cruises. Or we called it the midnight cruise because it was like from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. and the boat just turned into a club. There was one day there was this absolute riot that exploded. People were throwing chairs and one of my deckhands got punched in the face. It was full-on. We had to lock ourselves in the wheelhouse and do an emergency docking.

Can you tell me what that’s like to captain a tugboat and, also, how many tugboats operate in the Baltimore harbor?

There’s Moran and McAllister, we do most of the ship-assist work. There’s also another smaller one called Krause, but they don’t really do that much anymore. There’s also Vane Brothers, which does barge work. Dann Towing is here. There’s actually quite a few companies here, but mostly just Moran and McAllister are the ones that are doing ship-assist work. There’s three tugs each here in Baltimore.

The tugs are manned 24 hours per day, seven days per week. You’re scheduled to run a two-week-on, two-week-off schedule. So when I do my two weeks, I then get off and there’s another crew that comes in and relieves me. They take over the vessel at that point.

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During that two weeks, how much sleep do you typically get? Is it better or worse than “Below Deck?”

It’s about the same — actually, you know, “Below Deck” is probably worse. We’re supposed to adhere to STCW [the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers] when we’re working on “Below Deck,” but if we’re on anchor, things get kind of gray area and muddled. And then also, when we get off charter, and they’re [the producers are] like, “Oh, you know, go out, have dinner, have a good time.” You’re like, “I’d rather just get some sleep” and they’re like, “No, you’re gonna drink. You’re gonna drink and you’re gonna stay up until four in the morning, and you’re going to like it!”

I know you already spoke about the compensation issues on “Below Deck.” I was wondering if you could tell us to what extent the show is scripted.

That’s probably the number one question I get asked about the show, which is: Is it scripted? And my answer is always the same, which is, it’s not scripted, but it’s facilitated. The drama is facilitated in a lot of ways. We’re talking about lack of sleep, the crewing, you know, they go really in depth about the personalities of each crew member and how these crew members are going to be playing off each other. We all go through serious background and psychological testing, where they get to, like, understand what kind of personalities we have, what characteristics our personalities have.

And they’re not stupid. They understand how this Type A personality is not going to get along with this other Type A personality, so let’s take this personality and make sure they’re working together. With this very officious rebel who doesn’t take well to leadership, well, we’re going to put them under this guy, who’s also very officious and is big-time on delegating. You know they’re not going to get along. They’re not going to get along. And then it’s, hey, let’s put them all on a small boat together. And that’s what makes it a great television show.

Do you feel like that exploitation is seen as a necessary ingredient for a reality television show?

I think it’s necessary to an extent, absolutely. I mean, obviously, if they just said, “Oh, we’re going to get a bunch of people who have done yachting before, and they know what they’re doing, put them together,” there wouldn’t be a television show. People who actually charter yachts in the real world, they’re not like this. I mean, these guys [the clients on “Below Deck”] are still paying a lot of money. Surely, $35,000 isn’t chump change.

They get it at a discount for basically being entertainment.

Right, they get a discount. But then they act a fool. And that’s like, they want to do that. And the producers are also telling them, “Listen, if you have any issues, you need to be vocal about it.” And then there’s this “ask for everything.” Everything. You got three days. Ask for it all. And they do. But real charter guests, they’re coming on for a week, minimum. They’re paying three, four times the amount. And they’re there to actually relax, and they have time to do it. They want to sit. And they don’t want to do a theme party, followed by a picnic, followed by staying up all night drinking. No, they’re like, reading books and laying out in the sun. Maybe they want to take a boat to the beach and lay out on the beach. They’re much more chill. Does it get crazy sometimes, too? Absolutely.

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“Below Deck” star Eddie Lucas stands along the Fells Point waterfront Sunday, Dec.24, 2022 in Baltimore. (Gail Burton for the Baltimore Banner)

Back to Baltimore, why did you buy a house in Hampden?

I’ve actually been living in Hampden for 10 years, but I was finally able to buy a place. I love Hampden because it’s something that’s comfortable to me. I know it now. It’s great walkability. You’re in the city, but you don’t really feel like you’re in the city. And some of the best restaurants in Baltimore are in Hampden.

Do you have a favorite?

I love Dylan’s Oyster Cellar. They’ve got a great variety of oysters, from the the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast and the cold water oysters.

Is there a reason you’ve stuck around all this time? Is it just comfortable?

I’ve lived all over the place, down in South Carolina, Vermont, Colorado, but I love Baltimore just because it’s got so much character to it in such a small space. I like the Smalltimore vibe, where everybody knows everybody in some way.

Can you talk more about your promotion to captain and how it came about?

I started out as what’s called a hawsepiper. You start at the bottom and you work your way up. It’s not rare, but it’s getting more rare. We’re seeing a lot more people coming out of maritime academies, but a lot of those people, they go on bigger ships or they’re going offshore. Since there’s so few tractor tugs or ship-assist tugs, it is pretty rare to be able to get it, and you can’t just walk in off the street and get a captain’s job. You’ve got to start at least on deck and then understanding the deck and work your way up.

There is a massive crewing issue right now within the industry. It’s definitely taking a toll. A lot of people are just trying to find a job where they get paid more money. Being a professional sailor attracts a certain type of person. Someone who’s comfortable being away for extended periods of time. That’s not easy to find in this day and age. A lot of these newer generation kids are coming into it, they don’t want to be at sea away from their Xbox or away from their home for extended periods of time. You’ve got to be tough.

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A lot of it was just hard work, keeping your mouth shut, being quiet. You know that whole “squeaky wheel gets the grease?” Well, the squeaky wheel also gets replaced. So just keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone and work hard. And do the right thing. That’s treating people with respect. I think that’s huge, and in my industry, the hierarchy is important. You’ve got to respect it. You don’t want to start arguments until you get to be a captain. Now, I can be a pain in the ass.

What does it feel like to finally settle down after moving around so much?

It’s terrifying. I think one of the parts about being a sailor is, like, you’re always going to jump on a boat and go. You can always be gone. And I like that sense of adventure and not being tied down. And so now that I’ve got a captain’s job and I’m here, I bought a house, and I’m really settling down, it’s slightly terrifying, but it’s also liberating. You’re just like, all right, I can just kind of relax now, and just get on with it.

bconarck@thebaltimorebanner.com

Ben Conarck is a criminal justice reporter focusing on law enforcement for The Baltimore Banner. Previously, he covered healthcare and investigations for the Miami Herald and criminal justice for the Florida Times-Union. 

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