Jerry woke up at 4 AM. I mistakenly set my alarm for 4:50. When it went off, Jerry was still awake. We laid there talking about our plans, both too excited to sleep. We were stoked because today was the day of the Tug Boat races. Move over, Popeye! We’re coming aboard! We weren’t going to let the rain dampen our spirits.
Each year on Labor Day weekend, the tug boat companies along the Hudson get together for this fun filled competition and send their waterway warriors into the games. This is the 25th year. The event is free to watch but we opted for a seat on the spectator boat.
It started with a parade. The boats are dressed with flags and colors to parade in front of the judges located on Pier 84. Each tug is introduced with its size, horsepower, build date and location, particular role on the river and the name of the Captain. Some tugs salute the judges with a spin or a toot as their name is announced.
Most of the tugs were built in the 1970’s and had around 1500-2000 Horsepower. All had the scars of 40 years of grueling work on the Great North River (Hudson). All except the Captain Brian McAllister. She was built in March 2017 and looks new and pristine among the older tugs. Also, at over 2500 hp she is the strongest, by far.
W.O. Decker was the crowd favorite. This little lady was built in 1931 and currently resides in the South Seaport Museum. She comes out only a few times a year and the Tug boat races is one of those occasions. She has only 266 horsepower and is a fraction of the size her sister tugs. In her yellow and red dress paint, she looks like the cover on the children’s storybook.
Under the watchful eyes of the Harbor Safety Ship and the NYPD Harbor patrol, the tugs lined up across the Hudson near 76th street for the start of the race. At the blast of the foghorn, they were off. The finish line was at Pier 84, one nautical mile away.
With black smoke billowing, the tugs churned their way down the river, moving at speeds we didn’t know they were capable of achieving. In their stern, the massive props bubbled and swirled, stirring up large waves that almost swamped the tiny little W.O. Decker. She stayed afloat and negotiated the waves, although she was left in the wakes of the bigger boats. In a tight race, The Capt. Brian McAllister crossed the line first and carried off the Racing trophy.
Next up: the nose-to-nose tugging contests. Boats and captains selected their challenge and nosed up to their opponent. Each boat reved their engines straining to shove the other boat off their bow. Again, the black smoke billowed and the water churned until one of the boats slipped sideways and was pushed aside. Game over. Again, the new Capt. Brian McAllister carted off the trophy.
In a David and Goliath match, the McAllister and W.O. Decker lined up nose to nose and pushed at each other. After a few moments, The McAllister playfully went into reverse appearing that the W.O. Decker was pushing the massive tug around. Everyone enjoyed the tug and applauded loudly.
Testing the skills of the crew, the next competition was line tossing. Captains would pull into tug into the pier, stop before touching the pier and the deckhands would toss the docking lines over the bollard. This appears to be extremely difficult as very few of the sailors were successful.
“Best Dressed” award went to the Mary Alice. Decked with nautical flags strung from her stern to the Captains deck and an American Flag flying proudly from her stern, she was the proud model of a New York City tug.
When the sailor contests were over, there was still the Popeye test. Volunteers lined up for a spinach eating contest. Given a can of spinach poured into a bowl, the wanna-be Popeyes sucked down the spinach at the sound of the horn. The winner drained his bowl in 8 seconds and placed his bowl on his head to declare himself winner. A small 9 year old girl won the children’s division. She packed away her spinach defeating some young man who looked like a linebacker for the junior high football team.
The rain came and went, the fog and clouds came and went, but the smiles, laughter and cheering from the spectators stayed the whole morning and afternoon. It was an exceptional event and the weather couldn’t even dampen the spirits of the hundreds of spectators.
We were fortunate to meet one of the event volunteers from the Working Harbor Committee who sponsor the races. A very sweet lady, Terry Walton, asked if we were enjoying our day. We visited a short time as she welcomed us to New York. She told us this was the 25th year of the races and how much they have grown since the first one in 1991. She had to excuse herself to go judge the spinach eating contest, but was sure to invite us back next year before she left. She was truly proud of being affiliated with the Tugboat races.
We need to give a disclaimer here. We arent really sure who won these contests. It is our best judgement. It seems that the games themselves were the important thing, we never saw official standings.
Another day. Another really, really good day!