Larry Bergin was no stranger to water while growing up in New York and New Jersey.
He turned his love of water into a career after graduating from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York, with a degree in marine transportation and an unlimited license as third mate.
He began working as an officer on large ships and, at the age of 27, became one of the youngest to earn the rank of master, or captain. He continued to captain container ships for 31 years.
“I was away from my family quite a bit,” said Bergin, who is the father of two. He sailed all over the world, but mainly from the West Coast to the Far East.
“Typically, I would be away for six weeks at a time, then home for six weeks,” he said. “While being away from home could be difficult, the time off was a good counter balance.”
After 31 years at the helm, he tried retirement about 14 years ago, but it didn’t stick.
“We retired to Belfair and I played golf almost every day but I got bored," Bergin said.
He started Bergin Maritime, a consulting company. Now, one week a month, he instructs ship captains using four-story ship simulators at the Maritime Institute of Technology in Baltimore.
“To me, instructing is the best part of what I used to do. I used to love maneuvering the ship. I get to do that every day while on the simulators versus a few times a week on an actual ship,” Bergin said. “Plus, I run into people I knew from decades ago. My former third mates are now captains.”
His expertise is sought after as the East Coast prepares for ULCVs, ultra-large container vessels that are as large as 1,300 feet long (more than four football fields) and nearly 200 feet wide. These ships have a 49-foot draft and 200,000-ton displacement.
“They are coming to the East Coast,” Bergin said. Work to raise New York Harbor’s Bayonne Bridge by 65 feet to accommodate the supersized ships is expected to be completed next year. Once that is accomplished, these ships will be calling at the other ports on the East Coast as far south as Miami.
Bergin said the big ships can be less harmful to the environment because each large ship replaces three smaller ships, which reduces overall diesel engine emissions.
Ships also have to switch to low-emission fuel sources within 200 miles of shore and, in some ports,plug into on-shore power rather than continue to run their generators.
Beyond instructing, Bergin also testifies as an expert witness in court cases all over the country. Many of the cases pertain to who was at fault in spills, collisions or groundings, Bergin said. He also helps the state of Florida create its exams for harbor pilots.
Consulting and living in the Lowcountry is the best of both worlds, he said. He gets to keep up with the latest technology in shipping and enjoy life in the Hilton Head area.