Tugboat Tradition Revived at the Harbor

By Kristina Skorbach, Epoch Times
September 2, 2013 Updated: September 18, 2013

NEW YORK— After the annual tugboat race and the rope toss competition, a dozen tugboats pulled into the Pier 84, families and crew got off the boats and headed for the spinach eating contest. 

“I love spinach,” said Captain Charles Restivo, the winner of the race, while Popeye the Sailor Man theme played in the background.

Restivo is the captain of the Resolute tugboat, owned by the McAllister Towing and Transportation company. The Resolute set a new record coming in at exactly 5 minutes.

Restivo has worked for McAllister, one of the oldest and biggest family-owned towing and transportation companies in the country, for over 10 years.

“It’s my heritage,” Restivo, who grandfather came from Spain to work on tugboats in New York, said.

In high school Restivo worked pumping gas in the marinas. One thing led to the next and, before he knew it, he was tugboat captain. Restivo, 61, has worked on tugboats for 37 years, 30 of those as captain.

This was the second win for Restivo. He won two years ago on a different McAllister tugboat.

RECOMMENDED: EpochSnaps.com photo gallery of the entire day of events.

Tugboat Racing—A Revival

When maritime historian, Jerry Roberts, picked up a copy of the National Geographic from 1954 and saw pictures of a tugboat race at the New York pier, he was set on reviving the tradition that vanished in the 1960s. 

Roberts succeeded in bringing in a few tugboats for a competition in 1993, and from then on, every Labor Day weekend, the boats come out for a day of friendly competition at the pier. 

“I love the fact that these boats are still out there,” Roberts said. 

The marine towing boats are an integral part to importing and exporting goods, among other functions. 

As a historian, writer, and museum consultant, Roberts worked at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum for 18 years. While working at the museum, he made calls to tugboat companies and asked the boats to participate in a race. 

“New York is still an island, we are still a maritime community, even though people don’t often think of it that way, and at one point the entire fate of the whole city depended on these docks and the ships that came in and went,” Roberts explained. 

New Yorkers don’t always realize that tugboats like the ones participating in the race are the ones which move our trash, bring in the oil that fuels the buildings’ furnaces, and that they’re the force keeping the city moving, said Roberts.

Events like the one this Sunday, are an important part of keeping the tradition of tugboat racing alive, he added. Since the boats are in use all year long, this Sunday is the only day when they are used for recreational purposes, strutting for the cheers of families that come to watch the race. 

“That’s what it’s about, it’s choosing Labor Day Weekend to celebrate the guys who do the labor on the river,” Roberts said.

Although Roberts handed over the responsibility of organizing the annual event to the Working Harbor Committee he still comes out to the competition as the announcer, timer, and main supporter of the race. 

The Resolute—A Lost Art

The Resolute, a maroon colored tugboat, was built in 1974, and is one of the oldest in the McAllister company. As capable as the new tugboats, if not better, it boasts a distinct outer appearance.

“She’s good looking, she does a good job,” Restivo said, adding that Resolute was his favorite among the McAllister fleet.

The rounded pilothouse, where the captain operates the boat, and the unique rope fender, which looks like a Nordic beard and protects the boat when pushing big ships in and out of the port are a ‘lost art,’ according to Restivo. These features are time consuming and expensive and are not seen in modern tugboats.

“It was a little bit of a surprise, I didn’t think she was going to win,” Restivo said.

Although Restivo said that the 3,000 horse-powered boat had new propellers installed, there were other factors that contributed to the win. 

“If you don’t have a steady hand, you can really scrub a lot of speed off the tug,” he said. 

An experienced captain will know that you have to make gentle corrections when the boat is taking off, because when picking up speed, boats tend to wander in the water, Restivo explained.

Although the Resolute didn’t win the rope toss competition that did not deter the team on the boat from cheering and celebrating. The smiling Resolute crew wore white T-shirts with a “Keep Calm, and tug on!” slogan.

“That’s really one of the best things,” Restivo said about the event and being able to be with your boss and co-workers in a relaxed and fun environment.

To see full photo galleries of the event check out EpochSnaps Galleries: Running of the Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition