Book Reviews

From Vol 16-2:

American Tugboats Review 2005. An annual special issue of Professional Mariner.

Although it’s a supplement to a respected maritime magazine, this annual supplement is also available at better newsstands so no subscription is necessary. Thus this “book” review.

What would American tugnuts do without Greg Walsh? First he established Professional Mariner and after leaving it for other enterprises, he became its tugboat editor. Greg probably digs out more detailed news about American tugs than anybody else, and that includes the indefatigable Bob Beegle for his Marcon tug market reports and this news editor of TugBitts. (Mind you, I learn stuff he doesn’t but the reverse is far more-frequent.)

Although his monthly updates are welcomed by readers, Greg reaches a peak each year with the American Tugboat Review issue. In it, he (assisted this year by Brian Gauvin and Alan Haig-Brown) presents the preceding year’s best tugs in detail, plus articles on issues of interest and other tugs, much is happening in the tugboating world. And then there are those invaluable tables listing every (well, almost every) American “tractor” tug and ATBs (tables that, unfortunately, stop at the US’s southern border; there’s an awful lot of tugboating going on where Spanish and Portuguese are the main languages)! I dread the day when there are so many American tractor tugs that layout editor Kim Norton cannot find room for that table.

Greg starts off his list of best tugs by surveying the tug situation at Houston, where several tractor tugs have been added or will be soon. Then on to Key West and the JANET CATHERINE (in-house designed and spec-built by A&B, by the way), up to New London and the Jensen-designed JOHN P. WRONOWSKI (a tug with smaller engines than one might expect), on to Penn Maritime’s ATB tug CAPT HAGEN (designed by Bob Hill), Vane Bros barge-pushing NANTICOKE (not purpose-built for Vane) and designed by Frank Basile, the big tank barge-pushing-but-not-ATB LIBERTY SERVICE (and sister, both with twenty years of work under their now-refurbished beltlines), the Bruce-Washburn-designed ship-assist tug RAINBOW at Providence and nostalgically named after the America’s Cup racer, the towboat SANDY POINT (no comment), the Robert Allan-designed MIKOI for Hawaiian Tug & Barge, the Damen-designed dredge-tending CANDACE (the first US-flagged Damen tug and a design well-worth studying; I predict you’ll soon see more), and finishing up with the Robert Allan-designed ship-assist tugs ATLANTIC OAK and JOHN QUIGG. A goodly bag and full of lessons-to-be-learned. Thanks, Greg! Hugh Ware

High Seas, High Risk: The Story of the Suburys by Pat Wastell Norris. Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, BC, 1999. Softcover edition 2005. ISBN 1-55017-345-6 (Hardcover: ISBN 1-55017-208-5)

The title is not quite accurate for this is the story of these two famed salvage/deep sea tugs and their owner, Harold B. Elworthy, more commonly known from his initials as “Hard-Boiled” Elworthy. All three are gone but they are well-remembered in British Columbia and will be remembered by a wider circle of readers because of Pat Wastell’s fine book. Elworthy’s Island Tug & Barge is now a paragraph or two in Seaspan’s history although the corporate name lives on in another manifestation (Vancouver’s Island Tug & Barge Ltd, owned by the Shields family) and in the States as a totally separate company (Seattle’s Island Tug & Barge Co).

Timing (and many Horatio Alger-like virtues) made Hard-Boiled Elworthy a deep-sea towing success. After World War II ended, most shipping was worn and tired and prone to breakdowns, sometimes far at sea, and there was also an immense surplus of now-useless vessels that could only be scrapped. Brand-new aircraft carriers and unused Liberty ships, for example. So in 1954, Elworthy bought a Flower-class frigate that had been converted into a deep-sea tug and kept its wartime name of SUDBURY. It and other deep-sea tugs he acquired soon had plenty of work. Alawys in the North Pacific, all too-often in winter. Propellers fell off shafts near the Aleutians, engines failed, ships ran out of fuel (for some unexplained reason, most of them had come from Vladivostok), ships caught fire, help was desperately needed, and each time Elworthy let the press and radio folk, and thus the British Columbia world, know that the SUDBURY was bringing another problem-stricken ship. Soon, SUDBURY became a household world in maritime circles.

Then, in 1958, Elworthy found two ex-US Navy salvage ships, members of the eight-ship ESCAPE class, in Australia and prosaically providing electricity to small communities. They became SUDBURY II and CAMBRIAN SALVOR. Both were fully equipped for towing and salvage but provided miserable accommodations for the crews. No ports for ventilations, no air conditioning, no insulation. One crewman actually was stricken with heat exhaustion while lying asleep in his bunk! But no matter, the ships could tow, and tow, and tow!

Taking US warships to the war-losing nation of Japan for scrapping became big business and Island T&B formed an alliance with the Dutch towage giant Lendert Smit International (and apparently tipped off that firm to the virtues of towing wires rather than the manila hawsers Smit was using). Hitch up to two Liberty ships or a baby aircraft carrier and off to Hawaii. Transfer the tow to another tug, refuel, and back to the mainland for another tow while the other tug continued on to Japan. A monotonous business, sometimes in frightening weather (with rolls to 57°) but with comic relief from weird episodes such as when Canadian naval airman saw the carrier FANSHAWE BAY being towed below and couldn’t resist makings landings and take-offs on it while the tug crew watched in considerable amazement. And a profitable business too.

But the supply of tired breakdowns and surplus ships came to a predictable end, towing barges or rafts of logs didn’t earn enough to sustain such expensive tugs, and so the SUDBURYs (and IT&B’s other big deep-sea tugs) were retired, Harold B. Elworthy died, and Pat Wastell’s book ends. She wrote it well and it is fun reading—part Farley Mowat (for accounts of the many wild salvage efforts), part Dinnie Thorndike (for the stories told by those that were on the tugs or associated with them), mostly Wastell in style and a very enjoyable book indeed. I relished the book when I read the hard-cover version (and thought I had written a review of it for TugBitts) and I liked it again this time. And will the next time too because I will re-read this book. HW

BOOK NOTES: Later this year, New York University Press will publish George Matteson’s “Tugboats of New York: An Illustrated History.” The author worked on local tugboats for two decades and was often seen taking the tug SPUTEN DUYVIL hither and yon. Based on a sample in an advertising flyer we received, we judge that the book is well-written and based on both personal experiences and thorough research. It looks to be an important book and will be reviewed here.

The Fascination of the Voith-Schneider Propeller: History and Engineering was reviewed in Vol 15-3 with a warning that the book might not be available in the English language except under special circumstances (see the review for details—we’re afraid that our leg was pulled by Voith’s American manager). It has since been learned that an English-language version is available but has a different ISBN: cite ISBN 3-7822-0859-5 to your local bookseller if you want a copy. This version is also available through Lekko Maritimes Books at 39 euros for Lekko members or 41 euros for non-members (plus postage, of course) or in your currency by arrangement. Inquiries by email to

© 2007. Tugboat Enthusiasts Society of the Americas