Waterford’s Tugboat Roundup Celebrates 20 Years

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

August 22, 2019

A modest event designed as a get-together for commercial workboat operators in upstate New York is now celebrating 20 years as a three-day community festival.

On September 11, 1999, local resident John Callaghan had an idea to bring in some friends who ran tugs on the Hudson River and NYS Canal System for a quick one-day get together, right at the entrance to the famed Erie Canal.  

Callaghan, then a tug captain himself for the state canal system, brought in seven tugs and cooked several dozen hot dogs.  Unexpectedly, large crowds came to the waterfront through the day, proving that truly, everybody loves tugboats.

In the 20 years since, the Roundup has become a three-day family event with waterfront vendors, activities and games for kids, music, food and a signature fireworks display which runs nearly 45 minutes, synchronized to music.

The Roundup features a “Tug of the Year” award, typically bestowed on a commercial boat which has made its mark on the history of the state’s waterways and coveted by its crew.

The 2019 event is expected to draw nearly 35 vessels, a large majority of them working, antique or historic workboats.   Featured boats this year include the retired NYC fireboat John J Harvey, the 100 year old wooden tug W O Decker (operated by South St. Seaport), a number of working vessels from NYS Marine Highway (a commercial operator based in the area), DonJon Marine, Coeyman’s Marine and others.

Jack Lawler, Supervisor of the Town of Waterford, said, "For two decades, the Tugboat Roundup has been upstate New York's premier maritime festival, celebrating workboats of all shapes, sizes, and vintages. We look forward to again welcoming tugboat enthusiasts to our waterfront and to the Hurst Harbor Center to visit these amazing boats, speak to the crew members who work them, listen to great music, go for a boat tour, and enjoy great activities for the whole family."

“Waterford is proud to host New York’s largest maritime festival. It is the signature event at the Waterford Harbor and exemplifies the hard work and dedication of our local volunteers and Waterford’s long standing symbiotic relationship with the maritime community,” says Jeff Cleary, Waterford’s Harbor Master.

The 20th Anniversary edition of the Tugboat Roundup will begin, as it has since 1999, with a tugboat parade. This year’s tugboat parade will be led by the famed Fireboat John J. Harvey and begin on Friday, September 6th, at 1:00pm at the Port of Albany and arrive in Waterford at approximately 6pm. The parade will feature several tugs including the W.O. Decker of the South Street Seaport, the USCG Hawser, tugs from the Port of Coeymans, and NYS Marine Highway.

The 2019 Tug of the Year the Mame Faye. The Mame Faye is the only tug to have attended all twenty roundups.   A workhorse of the festival, it has become known as the Roundup’s official harbor tug.   It’s real job as a yard tug for NYS Marine Highway is suspended during Roundup week as it’s kept busy moving fireworks barges, assisting with additional floats and overall assist.

The Mame Faye was designed and built by NYS Marine Highway of Troy, NY. for construction work during the company’s early years. NYS Marine Highway has evolved into a major employer for the area, and a critical link in the upstate NY transportation and logistics chain. “We are proud to have been a major sponsor of the roundup every year for twenty years, and salute the Town of Waterford for continuing this important tradition. On behalf of our employees and senior management, we are proud to mark the 20th annual tugboat roundup by recognizing one of the most diminutive - but hardest working - boats of the tugboat roundup," says Captain Rob Goldman, principal of NYS Marine Highway.

Tugboat Roundup is supported by a number of local businesses and community members including NYS Marine Highway, The 8th Sea, Stewarts Shops, Chris and Gina Freeman, the Family of Captain Bart Brake, DonJon Marine, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Maximum Security Products, Mohawk Paper, Professional Mariner, Xperience and Radio X, Waste Connections, the Port of Albany and more.

“Tugboats are featured in our childhood stories, stirring art, and the folk songs that provided the beat to which generations toiled and moiled as they worked the canals and rivers of New York and beyond. They invoke nostalgia, wistfulness, and pardon the pun, they tug at the heart strings. I am proud to support and take part in this splendid event,” said Bill Curry, owner and operator of the 8th Sea and long time Tugboat Roundup sponsor.

Tugboat Roundup is September 6th, 7th and 8th. It features tug tours, boat rides, live music, tug talks, children’s activities, and a spectacular fireworks display on Saturday night. A schedule of all events can be found at tugboatroundup.com.

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