Boston Tug Muster 2002

Wednesday, September 18, 2002
A tugmeet is bound to be a local event, as harbor extravaganzas go. For starters, how far do we expect people to drive boats, just for the chance to strut? Okay, hundreds of miles if they could, but the cost of fuel and time off from business are both to be reckoned with. Even when they do arrive from afar, local conditions define the event. In Boston, for example, a tugboat race would not be advised. It's truly a crowd-pleaser when a field of tugs, a dozen abreast, tears up the waters like a raging winter storm. But it's environmentally unfriendly on Boston's confined waters, and anyway, a race is not such a true measure of a tug. Tugs are built more for power than speed. At the Boston Tug Muster on August 17, it was the push-off, the head-to-head contest, that measured you up.

That, and maybe a few other events. The line-tossing contest also demonstrated skills, of a sort tugboaters need just to get through the day. A large tent of books, scale models, paintings and T-shirts served to remind, if reminding was needed, that the most voracious tugboat enthusiasts are tugboaters themselves.

But as ever and always, it was the boats that stole the show. A handsome cross-section showed up, ranging from a 1937 classic to a 2002 bruiser. And maybe another regionalism appeared in this regard. The most conspicuous players in the Boston tugboat games were configured more-or-less for ship handling. The extended pilot houses typical for petroleum barge movements, such as dominate New York, were seen in only one instance, the Ludwig W., the newest boat at the event. Regardless of their structural details, they were all knockouts to look at, and they knew it.

Anyhow, such was the case for the large tugs. Some of the smaller participants were not, one would guess, built for beauty of line. Instead, their poetry was motion. For example, like an aquatic R2D2, the diminutive Innovator spun practically in place. It showed quick acceleration to highway speed, too, and seemed to push its rivals around almost as if they weren't there. It may not have had classic lines, but it was the essence of being a tug. Boisterous Behavior? Did the tugs ever act boisterous? Depends what you mean by boisterous. There were huge boiling plumes of smoke over some of them at times, but a lot of things besides attracting attention could account for that. Meanwhile, it's a well-known fact that tugs use horns and whistles, and it makes perfect sense to blast them during a Tug Muster. For an unbroken three minutes? Well, it's important to know that your horn could blast for three minutes, if it had to.

Proving that point on purpose is the sort of thing that might be expected of tugboats, so maybe we ought to leave well enough alone. However, according to Ken Anderson of Modern Continental Construction, owner of the very loud-voiced Ludwig W., there was another explanation for that extended blast. "My son pulled too hard, and the horn got stuck." Oh well, if anyone was still sleeping in Boston at 10:30 that Saturday morning, they knew it was time to come watch the tugs.

Sometimes an observer reads symbolism into the proceedings as when, for example, the workboat Big Toot had Boston Fire Department's Firefighter traveling astern. Some onlookers speculated that this represented chivalry on the part of the firemen, as Firefighter seemed too easy a pushover. Big Toot wasn't even breathing hard. But then came the punchline. The forward monitors of the fireboat, pointing upward, could not directly spray its rival. But what goes up must come down, and there was just enough breeze to spread the spray. All the onlookers wrote their own captions, of course, and had howls and guffaws to go with them.

Competing against a tugboat can mean being defeated by a tugboat. A tugboat probably won't push you back a couple yards, then turn to the crowd for bows. More likely, a tugboat will push you back halfway to Wooster, and the heck with taking bows. A tug will be careful not to founder your fantail, however, and in fact will probably treat you as considerately as any other barge.

It's all good clean fun, in observance of the fact that once in awhile, tows don't say please. "We don't expect much of the next contestant," announced a gent with a microphone at the line toss, "he's a crane operator." His counsel to another was, "Come on, Tony, don't embarrass your whole boat, the captain's watching." It's said with a smile. It comes with a laugh. You laugh along with it. And even after you throw the rope, you could spend a whole day finding reasons you shouldn't even think about what that man said. Simplified Organization This 18th annual muster was organized by the Boston branch of the World Ship Society. "We would have had a larger turnout of tugs," said World Ship's Philip Michelman, "but some of our participants were siphoned-off by tankers and car carriers leaving Boston that day. It's the first time we've had major ship movements the day of the Muster." As the day wore on, other tugs dropped in to socialize, including a pair bearing Boston Towing and Transportation insignia, even if their formal participation in the event was precluded. The organizers keep the formalities to a minimum, anyway. For example, only three prizes are given: best large tug, best small tug, and best workboat. Otherwise, "It's really a day for the tuboaters," said Mr. Michelman. "It's a day to relax, have a little fun, talk to the others in the business more socially than competitively. "

Each boat had its eats, ranging from fresh salads tossed-up in the galley, to substantial buffets from the company kitchens. The public was generally not permitted aboard the tugs - "we explain to them that unless you know your way around, a tug can be a little dangerous, and they accept it," said Mr. Michelman - but there was plenty of socializing from boat to boat. The summer sun was searing, so kids began diving into the harbor from Big Toot. Back at the merchandise tent, other kids played with radio-controlled models of - you guessed it - tugboats. The Awards The best big tug award went to the Ludwig W., the newest, biggest boat on the field that day. "She'd been started in 2001 for another company," said Ken Anderson of Modern Continental Construction Co., "we took possession in 2002, and had her finished to our specifications."

Modified winches and bitts, an aft control station, and that raised pilot house were among the features added by the new owners. The tug's first major job is towing barges from Albany to Queens, in New York City, with construction materials for the Fountain Avenue landfill. "That will probably be three million yards of material, over about three years," said Anderson, carried aboard 256-ft. river barges. The 100-foot, 3,400-hp boat uses twin screws and Kort nozzels,

The best small tug award went to the 25-ft. Innovator, whose whirligig movements across the harbor suggested cycloidal or thrusters, or other novel propulsion. "She's a twin-screw, 330-hp," said Charlie DiPesa of F.J. O'Hara & Sons., "but with one driving forward and the other aft, Innovator can really maneuver. She doesn't draw a lot of water, and goes right into tight places."

If awards for good looks had been granted, our vote would have gone to the Flushing, at one time a Red Star boat, now part of the stable of Acushnet Towing, New Bedford. Built by Bushey in 1937, the 1,800-hp 83-footer gets plenty of business in ship docking, and towing for construction companies, according to Capt. McDivett.

During the festivities, Marine News rode the R. Marcel Roy of Tucker-Roy Marine Towing and Salvage, New Bedford. The 1945-vintage ex-Navy YTB, at one time the South Carolina for McAllister, sports a 1,200-hp diesel-electric engine. "The only issue is to keep the electric motors from getting wet," Capt. Conrad Roy told us. "Otherwise, diesel-electrics are very smooth running, very fuel-efficient, and can maintain a pretty constant rpm. The Marcel is very smooth when you're doing ship assists - you can match the ship's speed exactly." The R. Marcel Roy appears to be among the last diesel-electric tugs in commercial service, a point of some poignancy as the parade rode past the first diesel-electric tug, another regional fixture, the in-restoration Luna (see "Save the Tugs," MN, February 25 2002). For all her increasing novelty, Capt. Roy reports, the Marcel's machinery is well within the scope of today's engineers. Regional Indifference? If a tug get-together is considered a convention for tugboats, we can take the sparse involvement of the landlubber public as a plus. A tradeshow, which in a sense this was, runs best undiluted by the curious and the tire-kickers. Still, it took place on public property, and the public was certainly welcome to watch. Everybody loves tugboats. And in an age when "entertainment" makes bigger fortunes than towing ever did, a measure of success - crazy as it sounds - is how many uncomfortable people get squashed into a space at a given time.

Mr. Michelman of the World Ship Society thought there would have been bigger crowds, were it not for the blazing heat and stifling humidity (which was not apparent offshore). You'd certainly think the regional authorities would have promoted the event, simply because local tugs are an asset of the region they inhabit.

The Greater Boston Convention and Visitor Bureau did list the Muster on their Web site back in May, excluding only the date it was to occur. Our request for specifics was answered by e-mail as follows: "I was wondering if you had a month that Tug Muster was scheduled to happen in. I have been working with the CVB convention team and don't recall anything about this event." We replied that our sole reference for the event was on CVB's own website, to which they next promised, "I'll search hi and low for information on this Tug Muster in July." She must still be searching high, because we had no further contact. Our subsequent e-mails to GBC&VB were not answered. If the Convention Bureau turns off to the media, imagine how they treat real people.

The towing industry, maybe with good reason, tends to be a bit insular. Whether things should be otherwise could also vary by region. You'd think, nonetheless, that the town fathers in Boston (or is it the town mothers?) would make sure that this event, smack dab in the tourist zone, facing the USS Constitution, was played to the hilt. In other places, they do. Stay tuned for our report from the Intrepid Tug Festival (nee Intrepid Tug Challenge) and Waterford Tug Rally.

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