Tugs get no respect

A recent Wall Street Journal article about upcoming tug races in New York City runs under this headline: “A Harbor’s Ugly Ducklings Can’t Resist the Tug of Speed.”

Ugly ducklings? I beg your pardon!

The subhead is even more insulting: “Dowdy Workboats Prove if Something Has an Engine, People Will Race it.”

Dowdy? As in frumpy, outmoded and shabby? No way!

The New York race, which is scheduled for Labor Day weekend, will probably feature both older and newer tugs. To me and to many, tugs are anything but ugly or dowdy. The classic lines of older tugs that feature upswept sheer lines are beautiful. And you have to love the almost jewel-like wheelhouses on modern harbor tugs with all the reverse-slant glass. And whatever the vintage, tugs are studs, not ducklings.

Here in Puget Sound territory where I live, we also have an annual tugboat race. Actually there are three races so tugs of a certain horsepower range can compete together. The races are the highlight of Seattle’s Maritime Week in May. Every year several thousand spectators line the downtown waterfront to watch, and I’ve never seen anyone avert his or her gaze from all those unsightly boats as they storm past.

OK, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and sometimes my eye blinks at the sight of fat black tires hanging over the bow or stern of a good-looking tug with perfectly fine fendering underneath. But utility – and repurposing – has its own beauty, too.

So here’s a shout-out to New York City’s handsome fleet of tugs and a Bronx cheer to the Wall Street Journal.

About the author

Bruce Buls

With a degree in English literature from the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), journalism experience at the once-upon-a-time Seattle P-I, and at-sea experience as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska, Bruce Buls has forged a career in commercial marine trade journalism, including stints at Alaska Fishermen’s Journal and National Fisherman, WorkBoat’s sister publications. Bruce spent 16 years as WorkBoat's technical editor before retiring in May 2015. He lives on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, about 20 miles north of Seattle (go 'Hawks!).

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