This tale of two tugs begins with the Sand Man, a splendid example of classic Northwest wooden workboats.

The other is the Tilly, a World War II-era steel 81-footer recently sunk by a crazy man in the Florida Keys. 

Built in Tacoma, Wash., in 1910 of old-growth Douglas fir, the 60'x14'6" Sand Man is homeported in Olympia, Wash., at the southern end of Puget Sound, where the tug has been owned by a non-profit group since 1997. Open to the public, free, most weekends, the boat has had about 63,000 visitors from every state and all over the world sign the guest log. The original 3-cylinder Frisco Standard 50-hp gasoline engine has been replaced twice. The current power plant, a Caterpillar D13000 6-cylinder, 110-hp diesel, was installed in 1944. In 1998, the tug was listed on the National Register of Historical Places (Vessels).

The Tilly was built in New York in 1943 and originally named DPC-86. She worked both the Northeast and the Great Lakes before ending up in Key West, Fla., where she was converted to a live-aboard. If you haven’t already clicked on the story in KeysInfoNet, I recommend it for a few derisive chuckles. This is what happens when people who don’t know what they’re doing bite off more than they can chew.

Unlike the Tilly’s owner, the men who take care of the Sand Man know a thing or two about boats. I’ve never met them, but it’s obvious in photos of the tug. As we all know, taking care of old boats takes both time and money. At the moment, the group’s financial reserves appear to be even more limited than usual, so they’re looking for people to pitch in. Which I just did, through an easy-to-use link on their website. Please join me.

The Tilly, on the other hand, doesn’t have a non-profit behind her, other than the county or state, one of which may have to pick up the tab for removing what’s become a hazard to navigation.

Preserving old workboats is often a dilemma. We’ve seen many worthy vessels destroyed by time and inadequate resources for preservation. The Sand Man looks well cared for and deserves ongoing support. The Tilly, not so much. 

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!).