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Here’s an article published by the USCG on this profession. And here’s my article/photos from the October 2016 issue of Professional Mariner on Lakes Pilots Association, District 2.  The photos in this post are outtakes from that article.

Below the captain of Huron Belle maneuvers into position to switch a District 2 pilot for a District 3 pilot on an upbound ship at the south end of Lake Huron.


Here Great Lakes tugs Mississippi and


Nebraska finesse a ship to negotiate a narrow bridge span on the Maumee River, as guided


by a Lakes District pilot.  Imagine calling the commands to ship’s helm and tugs on bow and stern while watching this evolution from the bridge wing  700′ back from where the ship steel could splinter the bridge wood and steel. A seiche here can cause the river to run upstream, and that bridge, which sees a fair amount of water traffic, is a midwest version of the Portal Bridge.


Pilots read the water as well as a plethora of tools to keep shipping without incident. Mark Twain said that as a pilot he “mastered the language of the river,”  and that’s still a requirement today.


And there’s always the transfer of pilots, which represents a significant risk.




This was a calm day, but in adverse conditions,


this is a challenge not to be understated.



Almost all photos here by Will Van Dorp.

Captain Charles . .  1953.  Know the location?  The bridge in the background is a clue.  Answer can be found at the end of this post.


James Turecamo, like me class of 1969, foto taken just before yesterday’s planned building implosion.  By that early hour, James had already earned a fair amount of “keep.”  To see James in Turecamo livery, click here.


Hunter is something different!  She’s just towed in a dead fishing boat.  How much would a RIB like this cost new?


Catherine and Kimberly, both Turecamo, escorted Tonna up the Arthur Kill, past the scrapyard where Gary Kane and I filmed the documentary.


Jennie B, 1955, in the mighty Columbia.


Captain Bob, August 1945 Marietta Manufacturing Point Pleasant WV hull #538, is a one year younger sibling LT of Bloxom (June 1944 and hull # 519)!  Also, in this run was Mary E. Hannah and James A. Hannah, posted here on tugster in 2012.   To get a sense what Captain Bob (ex-Sea Commander) looks like high and dry–and by extension what Bloxom of Graves of Arthur Kill once did–click here.  On the vessel below, I love the green “door.”

Scroll through here and here for more LT Army fotos.


HMS Liberty 1978 here sidles up to schooner Virginia.


Linda L. Miller, eastbound of the East River.   Linda L. and Gabby Miller assisted in loading Mighty Servant a year and a half ago.


Coastline Bay Star, once known as Coney Island, dates from 1958.


Longsplice (originally Shrike, 1959) recently high and dry near the Arthur Kill.


Pilot, 1941 out of a yard in Sturgeon Bay WI, is a sibling of Spooky!


And this vessel, on the left bank of the Willamette, I’ve no idea.  Anyone help?


Getting back to that first foto, the bridge in the background is the Bronx-Whitestone.  Foto then is taken from the north end of that unique part of the Bronx called City Island.

All fotos taken in the past month by Will Van Dorp.

Very related:  I’m looking for someone (or some group of people)  to take over guest editor position of this blog for about a month this summer.  Compensation is a fortune of sixth boro shellbacks as well as fame;  you could become a paladin of the port.  You really can be geographically any watery place.  And you have to adhere to a disciplined foto-driven/sparse verbiage mix of workboats, history, eccentricity, and apolitical wit.  Of course, you can add to that a smattering of your own favorite sprinklings.

Hmmm . . . does that describe tugster?  Feel free to add to a characterization of the blog.  But seriously, I need to step away for a while this summer . . . to gallivant, of course.   Get in touch for details.   Learning the blogging template is not difficult.

Foto below was taken on July 3, 2012.  Charles D. McAllister . . . featured here dozens of times, was assisting British Harmony (see name on lifeboat) out of IMTT Bayonne . . . for sea.  Where?  Doubleclick enlarges fotos.

Related:  note the follow-though handwork demonstrated by the line thrower below.  Where is he?  He’s not throwing the line to anything belonging to British Harmony, but he is in the same watershed.

Ditto this tug and barge.  Where it it?  Notice the water color.  Notice the name on the barge.

MANAUS on the tug is the best clue.

All fotos in this post except the first one were taken by my daughter, Myriam, who’s on the Amazon all summer as a grad student.  I bought her a camera and said . . . “tugster needs you,” and she’s been following through since mid-May while I’ve focused mostly on my end of the sixth boro, not hers.  More on this later in this post.   That’s a sweet ride below.

She’s based in Macapa and took this and all the others from her workboat.  No, she doesn’t drive it.

Cargo moves by vessels like this, and

this.  Right now Ikan Suji is Shanghai bound with a hold filled with Amazonian raw materials, I’d bet.

My guess (and I’m often wrong) on this cargo is navigational aids in the making.

I wish she’d caught the rest of the ferry . . . but there are fewer possibilities for a bow than a stern.  I’d never imagine this house/stern arrangement.

NYC’s sixth boro  . . . as all areas . . . have their

government boats.

Behold two Amazonian “rebocadores ”  Excalibur and Merlin. Click here for Smit Rebras including some interesting newbuild fotos.  Thanks to Harold Tartell for suggesting looking here.

But, not unexpectedly, vessels on the Amazon and its many fingers are as diverse as the population of that great country.

This could be the Mississippi,

as could this.

From Macapa to Manaus upriver is 500 to 600 air miles.  Stadt Gera, in Macapa today, was in the sixth boro and on this blog  a year and a half ago.

And here’s why I put the foto of Charles D. McAllister and British Harmony first:  British Harmony is about halfway up the Amazon to Manaus as I write this.  One really can get anywhere watery from the sixth boro.    Knowing that and having concrete reminders like this are not the same.

From fishermen, people with cameras along the KVK, and Macy’s barge waiting for the 2012 Independence Day fireworks . . . to kids in wooden boats like this . . .  all seen by crew on British Harmony  on the same trip  . . . I find amazing.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of another watershed.   Myriam certainly has the gallivant gene.  Here’s some self-disclosure.  39 years ago  (!!) I traveled to my first professional job about 500 miles up the Congo River on a huge tugboat named Major Vangu, pushing four deck barges.  The tug had 8 or 10 “staterooms” and a bar/restaurant for paying first class passengers.   Second class were on a barge with shade, and third class slept among the cargo (barrels of fuel, trucks, crates of beer, misc .  .  .) on the other barges.  It took four days and nights to get from Kinshasa to Mbandaka, near where I spend the next two years.  The reason for the choice of a tug was the airplane was non-functioning and roads to get there would have taken weeks.   Making this realization today suggests the need for a long river trip next year. . . . hmmmm . . . .

This post is inspired by Jed’s extended resume of last April here, and a “lightbulb”  comment by Maureen.   Thanks to you both.

Related:  Several times I tried unsuccessfully to find good profile shots of Major Vangu, which sank in 1979.   Anyone have ideas on finding fotos of the old Onatra vessels like Major Vangu?

Related:  In writing this post, I stumbled onto this blog by an artist in Belem, a major Amazonian port.

For starters, yes I do feel I’ve dropped the ball and missed taking and publishing fotos of such sixth boro events as the final move of the Willis Avenue Bridge and City of Water Day.  If anyone has fotos to share, I’d love to see them.

The North Country here means the St. Lawrence and beyond.  The white-helmeted gent does seem to be leading and gentle giant on a leash, not even having to

tug as BBC Rio Grande (ex-Beluga Gravitation, 2008) traverses the Iroquois Lock.  All the Wisconsin-built Staten Island ferries had to make their way through this lock.  Anyone have a foto of a big orange ferry passing here?  I previously wrote about these locks here and here.

It hardly seems possible their beam would squeeze through.

William Darrell ferries loads of improbable size across the international border between Cape Vincent and Wolfe Island, Ontario.  86 windmills now churn in the breezes near this northeast tip of Lake Ontario, not without controversy.

The “H” on the stack stands for Horne, the family that has operated this ferry since 1861.  This particular vessel entered service in 1953.

Bowditch (ex-Hot Dog, 1954) works out of Clayton, NY; as do

Maple Grove (left) and the unidentified “landing craft/freight ship” on the right.

More upcountry workboats tomorrow.  All fotos here by Will Van Dorp.

For now, some announcements:

Kudos to the ArtemisOceanRowing (scroll way down) crew who left New York in mid-June;  they broke a 114-year-old  record when they arrived at Isles of Scilly this weekend.

And finally, I’ve started a new blog called My Babylonian Captivity.  Exactly 20 years ago today, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, the US entered the current era, and I became trapped and remained so for over four months.  It’s a different kind of blog–all text– but I plan to chunk it out day by day or week by week until December.  Please send the link along to folks who you think will enjoy it.  It’s all nonfiction, the experience as filtered by me.

aka poisson d’avril, which is what the French call this delightful day.  At that link in previous sentence, check out the list of  (they say) well-known pranks.

A year ago, I put up a post that I’ve now concluded shows a hoax, a doctored foto . . . although I did not know it was a fake or intend it to be one.  I’d still like more analysis of what this shows and who did it.

I mention last year’s post because I heard about Edgar Allen Poe’s April 1, 1829 misinformation involving the lighthouse then at this location:  Lazaretto Point in Baltimore.  The hoax?  A man would fly from the world’s tallest structure–then Shot Tower–across the harbor and Fort McHenry to this lighthouse.  A crowd gathered here and waited . . . until nothing happened and the date began to sink in.    Poe was given to other hoaxes like the Balloon hoax of 1844.  He should just have called it “science fiction.”  By the way, Poe has figured prominently twice before in tugster:  here and here.

Hoaxes are sometimes well-received; other times the response might be prosecution.  Periodically I put up silly stuff, just for fun, like this one featuring light fixture reflections on the Staten Island ferry, never claiming otherwise.  Like those below . . . just a kid’s soap bubbles, or  . . .  you never know.

Captain James restaurant is no hoax but a unique Baltimore eatery.  New York hoaxes?  The Madoff gang comes to mind, like a nagging migraine.  More interesting is Orson Welles, but a century before the New York Sun published a story about an astronomer’s sightings of biped beavers, man-bats, and blue unicorns on the surface of  the moon.

Water on fire?  Remember the Cuyahoga in the mid-20th century?  But how about this youtube video . . . burning tap water?  Not a hoax.  Floating sand?

New statue dedicated to Jim Morrison or some other ecdysiast?

See you at the Fool’s Parade at the intersection of 14th Ave and Canal Street on the first of April . . . muster around noon?  After the parade, which’ll feature ALL the workboats of the sixth boro doing laps in front of the Statue and stopping at a barge spudded there with all manner of eats free for the taking by the BEST grubistas on the nearby shores and music & dancing to please every tongue and ear and eye and limb, there’ll be a bash in front of Snug Harbor:  all the orange juice you can drink and escargots au vin sans limites, maybe even some good eats from GMG, eh Joey?

Great sci-fi short stories based in New York:  The Third Level and Accidental Time Traveller by Jack Finney.  The third level refers to stairways leading to time portals located below the passenger boarding area in Grand Central, detours I look for when I’m not interested in boarding a train to work.

Oh, the statue . . . not a hoax but Orpheus himself, signed by Warren G. Harding.

Fotos by Will Van Dorp.  Again, thanks to Allen Baker for the Baltimore “local knowledge.”

Tugster last captured snow days here and here 13 months ago;  this year has brought inches more.    Thanks to Jed for the foto below from Thursday afternoon.

Modifications to the routine forced by heavy weather bring unlikely revelations, like this metro NY area newspaper editor reading his poetry (yes poetry . . . from a no-nonsense editor!!) about snow that you can enjoy here.  Low-brow?

Sometimes snow is just snow;  and bad weather is unadulterated pain, but  . ..  other times snow might get us thinking about other stuff.

Claude McKay sees in snow flakes love found and lost:   “Throughout the afternoon I watched them there,   Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky,   Whirling fantastic in the misty air,   Contending fierce for space supremacy.   And they flew down a mightier force at night,   As though in heaven there was revolt and riot,   And they, frail things had taken panic flight   Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet.    I went to bed and rose at early dawn   To see them  huddled together in a heap,    Each merged into the other upon the lawn,   Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep.   The sun shone brightly on them half the day,    By night they stealthily had stol’n away.

And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you   Who came to me upon a winter’s night,   When snow-sprites round my attic window flew,   Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light.    My heart was like the weather when you came,   The wanton winds were blowing loud and long;     But you, with joy and passion all aflame,    You danced and sang a lilting summer song.    I made room for you in my little bed,    Took covers from the closet fresh and warm,   A downful pillow for your scented head,    And lay down with you resting in my arm.    You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day,     The lonely actor of a dreamy play.”  High brow?

Anyone feel inspired?  A poem . . . 60 seconds or less?  Snow on the water?  If you go, I’ll go ….  I’ll even film my reading at one of my favorite waterfront offices.  High brow or low brow or no brow . . . no problem.

Until then, I hope you enjoyed the same foto of Meagan Ann, increasingly manipulated.  Here she appeared in the 2009 Tugboat race with her Viking crew, and here (See Youtube at end.) she sports in nose-to-nose pushing with Nathan E. Stewart.

Again, foto thanks to Jed although I’m still looking for more.

Last week I caught Lee T. Moran and Miriam Moran wrestling Atlantic Leo into a dock.  If wrestling–versus sacred dancing–it was, then the bout was one of slow but continous strain, where raw power overwhelms other raw power’s muscle fiber, strand by stand.  Diesel versus tide, or petroleum versus gravity, each almost evenly matches one with its counter.

Not that I usually employ this blog to toot my whistles, but this picture snatches me, and holds me, claws into tender skin,  in its clutches.  Double click to enlarge.

It could be the diagonal composition, the myriad tones of orangish-red superimposed with stains and reflection and bowsprite-like squiggles, whose recent additions I’ve found too infrequent,

the appearance of steel against steel as soft textured black cloth against softer  smooth brownish fabric, or the explicit exhibition of contact points,

the depiction of the  crew,  diminished by their work and yet struggling on.

but it holds me, like a scene of an infant or lover snuggling with huge matronly curves.

Fotos by Will Van Dorp.

I’m posting this very late . . . in the wee hours when judgment fails,  you know,  a risky time.  Will I still like this in the morning?  Let me know what you think.

See a focus on Laura K Moran here.

Tricolor and square sails on the mainmast under a North American sky…

red/yellow flag on the fore, with a respectable lookout,

bowsprit pointed to a gap between formidable headlands,

dramatic rake on the forecastle,

lookouts attend to multiple duties as vessel heads between imposing banks,

mate on the high and extremely raked quarterdeck and steersman steadies hands on the hidden whipstaff.  What vessel is this, what beautiful valley?

It’s Half Moon on the Hudson, now in Newburgh for a week.  For a memorable trip, sail them some day soon.  Keep them sailing.  See the virtual tour.    More detail in a later post soon.

And unrelated to the museum vessel, check out my new blog with bowsprite, the historical fictitious voice of Henry Hudson, based on Corey Sandler’s Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsessions and Donald S. Johnson’s Charting the Sea of Darkness.   Sail vicariously in the bimonthly blog.

All fotos, Will Van Dorp.

In Friday night excitement about work ending and weekend looming ahead to harness as I chose, I decided to stop by KVK. The spring night was warm. Three men fished and ate sizzling steaks (not fish!) right off a smoky grill, and told tall tales about shark and barracuda there when I inquired about their catch. Two other guys had started on a case of Budweiser and were starting to vent about a co-worker or supervisor. From the smell of BBQ, the beery voices that would vent til the beer was gone, and the warmth, I expected Saturday morning might bring an early summer.

As night fell, Pamir–a vessel that makes regular appearances in NY but whose name is rich in exotic associations–started backing out into KVK, outbound, remarkably silent given the a power plant the size of a small house, revealing not the tugs assisting it but two tugs collected at its bow: the larger Reinauer and the historic Cornell.

The Reinauer turned west and passed Weeks Marine’s Shelby pushing a crane barge eastbound toward Robbins Reef. From the Reef, any destination anywhere is possible on the sixth boro. Cornell lingered a little longer before going that way too, sounding a shrill whistle.

Tractor Ellen McAllister and unidentified partner turn eastbound, ready to assist Pamir . . . to ensure that the equally rosy dawn would find Pamir well out to sea, its crew–recalling the aromatic smoke of the BBQ –eager to regain their hearth fires, wherever they might be.

And I had people to support, something I could do better now that I’d stopped along the Kill on that spring evening before beginning my night work. I had miles to go … As I turned inland Staten Island the unexpected music in my head is the Bob Seger anthem about losing the awkward “lifetime” blues.

Photos, WVD.

A day in the life of a John P. Brown crew is nicely chronicled in this essay by John Soltes published last year in the Brooklyn Rail.



Next to the John P. is the smaller Thomas J. Brown. Check out Fred’s Tug44 foto of Thomas J. here.


Photos, WVD.

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June 2023