It is with regret that we have to report the passing of Doug Lotoski at 78 on Tuesday afternoon, July 11 from complications of ALS.
Doug began his maritime career as a Royal Canadian Navy Diver, where he became proficient in underwater salvage, repair, construction and exploration. Besides braving harsh and demanding conditions, Doug displayed a sharp mind for solving unique engineering challenges and overcoming obstacles. Doug applied his training and abilities as he continued to pursue work and business opportunities in the maritime industry following his military service. In 1982, Doug met Grant Westmorland and together they formed Sea-Trec Enterprises, with a focus on re-purposing former U.S. Navy Landing Craft. Sea-Trec designed, constructed and delivered well over one-hundred custom landing craft and other vessels to dozens of customers from far north Alaska to Latin America, the Caribbean and the South Seas. Using Doug’s intuition and Sea-Trec’s capabilities, Sea-Trec spun-off “Westcoast Tug & Barge” in the early 90’s by designing and building a series of small, maneuverable harbor tugs, to this day still servicing San Diego Bay shipyards and military customers.
Doug came from the “Old School” of how sailors, and men, were cast. He could operate anything that moved. He could fix anything that stopped moving. He was impatient to learn from, but you could learn almost anything if you paid attention to him. His business ventures were a reflection of his personality.
When Doug wasn’t busy inventing a new design or supervising a major project, he could be found dressed as his alter-ego, “Spots the Clown”. Spots and his fellow Shrine Clowns delighted children of all ages, especially those being treated by Shrine Hospitals. Spots was truly hilarious and he loved children. He could bend his balloons into any animal or shape while telling a wacky joke at the same time. Spots could entertain the adults too, with a sailor’s humor and “salty” balloon shapes that could make a Bos’n blush!
Whether he was in character as Spots or just Doug, everything he did was ahead-full. Doug was not known for compromise. He demanded a lot of himself and was his own worst critic. He had little use for sleep and less for vacation. For Doug, life was work and work was life. Doug’s passion was boundless and contagious. When he told a story, he told it with his whole self. The rise and fall of his booming voice, his huge toothy smile and his shining eyes would sweep you along with his story as though you were living it with him. Sometimes Doug would grasp you in his big, strong hands to make sure you were paying close attention to an important detail, his eyes piercing into yours.
In 2002 Westcoast merged and became Pacific Tugboat Service and Doug decided to “retire”. Retirement for Doug meant working on his farm and numerous boat projects throughout the US, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Somehow, Doug remained ageless. He never seemed to get much older than around 65, but he might better be compared in “Dog Years” of which he was eternally around 3. He was in fact working on a Landing Craft project for a customer just months before his illness.
The photo is typical of Doug’s never say quit will and was a five barge tow out of Campbell Shipyard, San Diego. The barges were lined up in pairs with the fifth one at the end. They were all on soft lines, including the main tow line. I think Doug used the old single screw tug Commodore or Marine Discoverer. I recall standing on the old wood pier casting off mooring lines one by one in sequence as Doug pulled away. I remember thinking he was crazy just to try to get off the pier with no assist tug, much less go all the way to Canada. By the time all the barges were cast-off, they each had a few hundred feet between them and the tug was all the way to Coronado, blocking the entire harbor! Doug made the turn and headed to sea, just as he predicted, with no incident or problems. It was risky, maybe even reckless, but amazingly executed seamanship. Typical Doug Lotoski.
Doug Lotoski occupies a place in our maritime culture and history that is shared with few others. They don’t make ’em like Lotoski anymore. Doug is the light over the horizon, surely building a better place for all of us than he found there.
Written by Steve Frailey
Pacific Tugboat Service