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Post written by Tom Briggs, shown above, edited by Will Van Dorp.  Foto above by NMCB 3 Public Affairs.

When [Will] asked that I write something for the blog, I initially thought to discuss my recent trip to the upper reaches of the Euphrates River valley. But what I had seen disappointed the sailor in me:  no dhows or fisherman in traditional dress. Rather,  guys dressed in slacks and shirts, fishing with old fishing poles and hand cast nets from beat-up aluminum boats with outboard motors. Contemporary Sindbads really didn’t look or act all that different from US sport fisherman.


Therefore, I began to reflect on common ground between my Iraq “trip” and time spent sailing in New York Harbor. My trip was  chaotic,  violent and  dreary. The way to escape this was to relive the peace that I’d found sailing in New York Harbor and the quality of friends that I’d made there. It shocked me that the only people to write me while I was away, other than my wife, were my sailing friends. Others that I’d known for years simply didn’t have the time or inclination to maintain contact.


I first set foot on Pioneer in February 2006. Despite having an iron (now mostly steel) hull, Pioneer is very much a traditional vessel: sixty odd feet on deck, one hundred feet overall, gaff-rigged, without winches and with only the minimal fittings necessary to operate for public sails. What draws me to her is not conventional beauty  but longevity.  A workboat meant for hauling cargo no more than twenty or thirty years, she survives and sails one hundred  twenty-three years later.
aaaiq3 I first sailed Pioneer in fifteen to twenty knots of wind, what Pioneer LOVES! I was on bow watch as Pioneer pounded through the waves, water shooting up through the hawse-holes, soaking me. I loved sailing from that moment on and I wanted to learn to be a better sailor and so gain acceptance by the volunteer crew. Not all of the volunteers were excellent sailors, not all of them loved the same traditional nautical things that I did, but they were kindred spirits. I can remember nights after sailing sitting in the bar arguing with the chief mate and another volunteer over how to tie a sheet bend and what its similarities are to a bowline. Who does that? What kind of freaks sit and argue in a bar about knots?

Toward the close of my second year aboard Pioneer, I received my deployment orders to Iraq. I considered this exciting news since I had volunteered for the deployment. But as departure grew closer, I got nervous and my friends from Pioneer were there for me. They took me out to restaurants all over the City and gave me a going-away party that I’ll always remember. And when I was deployed they wrote  letters, sent  packages and did everything that they could to remind me that there existed another world that I would go back to one day. I can’t say how much of a relief it was after working a twelve to fourteen hour watch in Iraq, to go back to my SWA (South West Asia) hut, tie knots, read letters and listen to sea shanties on my iPod. It sounds odd to me now, but my friends helped me keep my sanity then.

Three middle fotos by Will Van Dorp.

Welcome back, Tom.  I offer the foto below: a scene of dhows, Iraqi tugs, and wooden date barges somewhere along the Shatt.  It comes from a postcard given to me by Umm Majed, my Iraqi Arabic teacher, a woman with a 1001 stories that need to be heard.


Schooner rig on a cat?  Anyone know this cat named Peace?  Thanks to David, check Wharram.

Here’s a closer shot at stern, where an inflatable tender hangs.

In fall the prevailing sail traffic around the boro is south.  Registry on this ketch was Naples, FL, I think.  That line trailing might cause troubles.

Pioneer – here motoring off the dock – works for another month or so, as

does Shearwater.  Both had a respectable paying load Sunday afternoon.

Photos, WVD.

The Dutch call this month augustus, with a happy throat trill on the “g,” and it sounds like the title. The adjective “august” means “inspiring awe and reverence.” Bernie Ente of the Working Harbor Committee took these shots this week on one of their public tours and I’m thrilled to pass them along. Wow! I’ve not seen Pioneer looking more magnificent.

This blog has posted nekkid fotos of Orion, Peking, and Rickmers-Rickmers in dry dock earlier this year. Below is Halve Maen, high and dry.

Finally, the Falls have attracted thousands . . . millions? . . . to the East River this summer. The first millisecond I saw this foto of Bernie’s I thought “rare bird,” imagining the tail as head of an avian and starboard horizontal stabilizer as bill not unlike a hummingbird’s.  Appropriately, the tug is Swift.

I look at these shots, sigh, and reflect on the sublime aka the most August.

Unrelated, some panamax cranes arrived at the Narrows this morning, but I couldn’t stick around to watch them squeeze under VNB.

Interesting logo . . . must mean this is Leopard 3. Could her determined crew keep her heeled over enough that the 154‘ mast could squeeze under the 127’ Brooklyn Bridge clearance?

Interesting crew . . . must mean Pioneer. Could their efforts and enthusiasm be harnessed to catch the 35-knot Leopard?

Under gray skies that match her colors, Leopard sprinted around the harbor yesterday even before

Pioneer raised her main . . . and they all

headed for a rendezvous over by Ellis Island.

My conveyance and camera platform . . . thanks to the fabulous tours of Working Harbor Committee.  Sign on for a tour soon.

Unrelated:  Check out ketch Angelique.

By the way, the BBridge turns 125 this week. Don’t miss the party.

Photos, WVD.

It’s all about maintenance and luck. Pioneer had the good fortune to be spotted and loved by Russell Grinnell Jr.

Not far from where Pioneer got maintained recently lies this nameless workboat. (Correction: Thanks to Jeff, vessel below is Bayou Plaqumine aka Courier. Great fotos and interesting historical info on this Flickr page.)

At one time, in fact, Pioneer had no masts although she never had house forward. Seeing the beached and deteriorating vessel below, I’m reminded of fotos of Matthew Brady.

Pioneer was built in 1885, a time when many work vessels were constructed of wood. Again, the identity of these few ribs might be know to someone, but I have no clue. Here’s a link to National Park Guidelines on Abandoned Shipwreck regulations. Most New York wrecks listed are right in the Kills.

Photos, WVD.

An uninhibited feathered object spread wings over Stena Primorsk, appropriately named. More great Stena Primorsk fotos here and here, along with foto of the extraordinary Queen Silvia who presided over Primorsk‘s launch about two years ago.



Uninvited flying organism escorted IVS Kwaito into port a few weeks back.


Unbidden fleeting outbound jet had just departed from Newark airport as Vallermosa prepared to lower anchor last week.




Undistracted flight officers approached Newark airport as outbound Pacific Turquoise left Arthur Kill.


This uniform floating organization just crowded out any human technology. Soon the brants will leave the harbor for points north.


And then there’s an unclassifiable flying organization of unlikes such as this one caught in the shrouds of Pioneer ….


All photos by Will Van Dorp.

I’ve not added to this series so long now that rumor is I’m becoming pariah among those who harness the wind. Sincere apologies! I’m totally with you all, just . . . uh . . . breathless?



South Street’s Pioneer above and Pride of Baltimore II with unidentified escorts below. Would you believe the foto below was taken less than a quarter mile from the Battery on a supremely hazy early autumn day?



A green stripe along the jib . . . might it be– could it possibly be– Green Lantern?



Ventura (Herreshoff built for the founder of Citibank) heads north framed by a Trump Building (green roof) and westside pillars of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.



Adirondack and Pride of Baltimore II, bow to bow.



About my absence . . .well Aeolus has been doing to me what he’s done to others, and I’m up to what Cavafy prayed for.

Photos, WVD.

Waterborne vehicles have no brakes, but they do have fenders and wheels.  Check out Waterford‘s wheel.


Pioneer‘s wheel has same design in metal.


Schooner Anne‘s not surprisingly features carved designs.

USCG Eagle (ex-Horst Wessel) has three wheels in tandem, six sets of hands at the wheel.


So, here’s the wheel of the tug Cornell.  Why only stubs left where spokes once projected?


All photos, Will Van Dorp, who knows that wheel also refers to props.

The sixth boro idea excites me, especially in summer when it has a more visible as well as dynamic population…


Above, crew of the container vessel Maersk Sealand Gateshead eastbound on KVK enjoy last minutes of views of the greater NYC before headed out, probably Europe. Not much of human species to watch or photograph during 98%+ of that trip. Stories that intrigue me here: who the crew are, what places they call home, what languages do they use, who are their loves and beloveds, what are their impressions of New York…


Four crewmen of K-Sea’s Great Gull southbound on Arthur Kill prepare to dock. Stories here: same as those above, and career paths…


Foolhardy (my sense) or intrepid lone kayaker leaves East River for confluence with Hudson and flood tide bound for New Jersey. Stories here: same as above, and what his kayak experience is, what he does when not paddling…


Crewman of barge pushed by Taurus eastbound on KVK does bow watch. Stories here: all of the above, and what things he’s seen, what goals he has…


Crew and passengers on SSSM‘s Pioneer southbound on Upper NY Bay enjoy midsummer’s sunset. Stories here: again the same, and what prompted their choice to sail for the best views in the boros…


Find the clue that the foto dates from pre-winter 06-07? It lies right between the two ferries? See below. Converging SI ferries conveying hundreds between the boros. Hundreds of reasons to take the free ferries: work, visit, dinner, movie, date, scenery, shopping…
All images by Will Van Dorp.

Dating clue: See Red Hook’s sugar mill right between the ferries. You cannot see that anymore.

Previous posts here have mentioned pirates; an experience I had yesterday prompts another. I was eating a late midday lunch on the third floor balcony of Pier 17 before going sailing a shift of public sails as volunteer on Pioneer. Beside me on a teak deckchair sat a Chinese woman and a 10-year-old I took for her grandson. She was having lunch too while the boy crouched at the front of her chair immersed in a hand-held video game. The scratchy sounds emanating from the v-toy bothered me, but I felt generous, buoyed by a general joy about my life and the sights and sounds of the East River. No, Alice was nowhere to be seen, but so what. The grandmother, however, seemed unhappy; to any question she posed the boy [in some dialect of Chinese I understand nothing of], he grunted in a way that in any language means “don’t bother me.” Any food she offered, he declined. Any sight she pointed out, he ignored. He contorted his body such that his vision and his hands converged around the game. His avoidance of her and tuning into what I deemed grating electronic sounds went on for about 15 minutes. Then the black ship below approached the pier.



In tones less whiny than before, she called his attention to the ship. She repeated a sound that I took to mean “ship.” The excitement in her voice became palpable. “Ship, ship” she repeated, and for once the boy looked up. “See the captain,” said she, pointing to the helm where a man in black hat sat with a mysterious double.



A loud distant voice rose from the ship, counting down; then a simultaneous puff of white smoke and a loud boom, followed by echoes clattering off the buildings of the island of Manhattan, echoes like impact, tangible impact and not just sonic ones.

The grandmother’s voice had energy now, and the once ensnared boy put down his v-toy. Another puff and boom and he handed the toy to his grandmother, who took it as she continued to narrate the events to her grandson. She had all his attention now, she and the black ship.



Young voices now roared from the deck of the black ship. As the red-capped pirates lowered the sails and furled, the young pirates waved swords and shouted.





And the grandson, only moments before begging in a whiny voice for his grandmother to leave him to his electronic device, now seemed petitioning her as the powerful one in his life: “Please, grandma, may I go? Please let me join this band? This would be exciting. My life is so boring. Let’s go meet them at the dock.”



So grandmothers and grandfathers of all ages; hope for v-toy addicted young’uns exists only as far away as the end of Pier 16. Pirates sail again to liberate us from electronic dreariness!

Departing at 1 pm July 22 and August19, both Sundays at pier 16. $20 for young’uns and $30 for adults. Reservations: 212-748-8786.

All fotos, you guessed, Will Van Dorp

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Graves of Arthur Kill

Click on image below to order your copy of Graves of Arthur Kill, by Gary Kane and Will Van Dorp. 3Fish Productions.

Seth Tane American Painting

Read my Iraq Hostage memoir online.

My Babylonian Captivity

Reflections of an American hostage in Iraq, 20 years later.


August 2021