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It Takes a Tugboat

How Bert Markovich navigated his way to maritime law

Published in 2017 Washington Super Lawyers Magazine

Bert Markovich never saw the ocean until he was an adult. Growing up in Butte, Montana, then serving as captain of Montana State University’s 1976 title-winning football team, he had his sights set on high school coaching and teaching. 

So how did he end up as a cook on a tugboat?

It was 1977, and he’d followed his heart—and wife-to-be Theresa—to the coastal Oregon town of North Bend, where she had been hired to teach at the local high school. Bored and jobless—with a recent double major in English and history—Markovich struck up a conversation one day with a fellow jogger. The man asked, “How would you like to go to sea?” 

He was a business associate of a tugboat company that hired crews to tow lumber to places like San Diego and Hawaii. Markovich protested that he was not qualified. When the man told him a cook was especially needed, Markovich had to laugh. He barely knew how to boil water. 

Still, he applied. Under hobbies, he wrote “cooking.” It was a stretch, to say the least, but he got the job. 

Theresa gave him a crash course in cooking. She even handed over her “bible:” a Betty Crocker cookbook. As a bonus, she slipped in a friend’s recipe for a dish called Shipwreck. 

“I said, ‘I think we’re going to have to rename that one,’” Markovich recalls. The hamburger casserole became just plain “hash.” 

When Markovich boarded the Roughneck a few days later, it was his first time on an ocean vessel. He met the six men who would be subjected to his cooking. 

“I was madly looking at my cookbook and trying to make things,” Markovich remembers. But his cakes came out looking like pizza and his eggs tasted like rubber. One day, he recalls, a crew member threw down his fork and said, “I can’t take any more! You don’t even know how to cook an egg!”  

The captain delivered an ultimatum: If Markovich hadn’t learned to cook by the time the tug returned to Oregon, he would be fired. On the plus side, he added, the crew thought he was a great guy and they had all agreed to teach him to cook. 

Markovich held onto his job. He fed the crew well for another few months until he landed a coaching/teaching job in North Bend. But law school had always been in the back of his mind, so in 1980, he entered the University of Oregon School of Law. Never did he imagine that his brief experience on the high seas would end up steering the course of his legal career.

After landing a summer associate position in 1982 with Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in Portland, Markovich came to the attention of the late Paul Daigle, a maritime lawyer charged with expanding the firm’s Seattle office. After learning of the tugboat adventure, Daigle invited Markovich to practice maritime law there. In time, Markovich realized the advantage his experience had given him.

“Some guys come out of college and law school and they’ve never been around a working person,” he says. “It helped me understand them, and going to sea and what that entails.”

More than half his work is in maritime law, typically representing vessel owners in disputes and defending them against liability claims. He’s been on oil tankers, container ships, fishing boats and, yes, even tugboats. He also represents manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies against products liability claims.

“I can have days where I’m up in Kodiak, Alaska, taking the deposition of a crew member or vessel owner, and then in that same week I’ll be in New York City deposing a witness on a pharmaceutical case,” says Markovich. “That contrast has been just wonderful. I love both aspects of it.”




1 onion, thinly sliced

4 potatoes, thinly sliced

1 lb. ground beef, browned and seasoned

4 carrots, thinly sliced

14-oz. can baked beans

10-oz. can tomato soup

Preheat oven to 375° F. Layer bottom of greased 2-quart casserole with onions, top with potatoes. Spoon in cooked ground beef, top with carrots. Spread with beans. Mix soup with 1 can water, pour on top. 

(Markovich’s variation, reminiscent of pasties his grandfather ate while mining in Butte: Seal casserole with pie dough, poking steam holes before placing it in the oven.) Bake uncovered for 1 hour.

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