But New York remains a bustling and active harbor. The Working Harbor Committee aims to educate the public about the people and processes that make the harbor run, and without whom our modern existence would be impossible. One of their marquee events is the annual Tugboat Race and Competition on the Hudson River. Every year, a selection of the harbor's many working tugboats show off their speed, pushing power, skilled crew members.
We watched this year’s race from the finish line at Pier 84 in Manhattan, alongside the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The competitors included a wide range of tugs, from 3,000-horsepower behemoths to boats that looked fit for a bathtub. As always, the competition was called by Captain Jerry Roberts, who founded the event and has organized all 18 previous. When I heard Captain Jerry’s voice over the PA system, I thought it belonged in a professional broadcasting booth, and his call made the race sound as exciting as any sporting event I’ve attended. The tugboats’ radio channel was also plugged into the PA, so periodically their banter would cut into Jerry’s commentary. The race call was briefly interrupted when a powerboat filled with shirtless photo-seekers sped onto the course, which had been closed to all traffic for the race. Captain Jerry repeatedly instructed them to leave the course, and they barreled closer and closer to the approaching tugs. Then a Coast Guard Auxiliary boat rocketed onto the scene, and the crowd erupted in cheers as they forced the interlopers off the course with some nifty maneuvering and, one hopes, delivered a hefty fine.
After the boats crossed the finish line, they engaged in a some nose-to-nose pushing contests to see who was more powerful – or who was more willing to risk their engines for a contest. That was followed by a rope-throwing contest, in which crews were timed to see who could pull up alongside the pier and toss a rope over a cleat in the shortest time – a bit of ballet between ship and crew. Unfortunately we had to leave before the official results were announced (or the spinach-eating contest got underway). But we will definitely be back next year for the 20th running for the tugs.
New York Harbor, and tugboats especially, are a very popular subject for amateur and professional photographers, and already we have seen a wonderful selection of photos from this year’s race online (including from Newtown Pentacle, Tugster, and all over Flickr). Our photos certainly don’t stand up well, but here’s a brief slideshow of our day on the waterfront.
If you would like learn more about New York's bustling waterfront, check out the many programs and tours sponsored by the Working Harbor Committee. Urban Oyster also offers regular tours of one of the waterfront's key landmarks, the Brooklyn Navy Yard (click here for details and tickets). You can also follow the working ships in the harbor in real time online on this AIS Marine Traffic map.
For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Andrew Gustafson or leave a comment. If you would like to follow this blog, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up for the Urban Oyster email newsletter. All photos by Andrew Gustafson unless noted.