Tug celebrations cancelled because of Covid-19

Two popular September tugboat celebrations have fallen victim to Covid-19. Both the Great North River Tugboat Race and Competition traditionally held Labor Day weekend in the Hudson River off Manhattan, and the Waterford Tugboat Roundup held the following weekend at the entrance of the Erie Canal in Waterford, N.Y., have been cancelled.

The tugboat race, which is organized by the nonprofit Working Harbor Committee, typically draws a dozen or more working tugs to compete in the mile-long race, nose-to-nose pushing contests and line-toss competitions. Hundreds of spectators watch from shore and from a specially chartered Circle Line sightseeing boat that follows the race.

“It is with great sadness that we have to announce that the 2020 Great North River Tug Boat Race and Competition has been suspended this year,” Working Harbor chair Gordon Cooper said in a Facebook post. “In order to safely observe Coronavirus precautions for our spectators, many of whom are high-risk category citizens, we have determined that we can’t guarantee social distancing either on board [the spectator boat]or on Pier 84 for the usual post race activities.”

The race, now in its 27th year, draws boats from McAllister Towing, Vane Brothers, Norfolk Tug, Vinik Marine, Donjon and Miller’s Launch and other companies, many filled with crewmembers’ families. “This is a great way for our families to see a slice of our lives,” Glen Miller, president of Staten-Island-based Miller’s Launch, explained one year.

It is also a way for the public to get to know the tug industry. “New Yorkers sometimes forget they are surrounded by water and that there is a whole maritime industry working here. This tug competition is the one time a year people can really see what we do,” a McAllister spokesman told the Working Harbor Committee a few years ago.

The three-day Waterford Tugboat Roundup, which marked its 20th anniversary in 2019, “celebrates the history, the present and the future of inland waterway transportation,” Tom Beardsley, the event’s marine coordinator, said last year. Waterford, 150-miles north of New York City, sits at the confluence of the Hudson River and the Erie Canal and was once a hotbed of canal activity. The event draws many old time canalers and modern-day canal fans, who enjoy remembering days gone by and learning about some of the companies that still operate on the New York State Canal System. The weekend includes a tugboat parade, open hours for visitors to tour the tugs, lectures, music, food and fireworks,

In announcing the cancellation of the 2020 Roundup, which had been scheduled for Sept. 11, 12 and 13, the organizing committee said, “It is impossible to plan an event that includes large crowds gathering in a relatively small space. Moreover, Covid-19 has affected the marine industry and companies cannot risk exposing their crews or taking time away from a condensed working season.

Organizers for both tugboat events say they are making plans for 2021.

About the author

Betsy Frawley Haggerty

Betsy Frawley Haggerty, a USCG licensed captain, has been a maritime journalist for more than 30 years. Her work has appeared in Offshore (where she was editor for seven years), Soundings, Professional Mariner and Workboat, among other publications.

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