ORIGINALLY PUBISHED SEPT. 5, 2013 | BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER |There were bigger, more powerful tugboats than the South Street Seaport Museum’s W.O. Decker in the 21st annual Great North River Tugboat Race on the Hudson River Sept. 1, but none whose presence in the Labor Day weekend race meant more.
The diminutive, yellow tugboat sparkled as she joined the line of 15 tugs and a few other boats for a parade up the river from W. 44th St. to the starting line of the race at W. 79th. Last year, she missed the race. This year, her jaunty exterior stated loud and clear that the South Street Seaport Museum may be on the ropes seeking a new manager and financial backer after the Museum of the City of New York pulled out, but is not down for the count.
The Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition uses the historic name for the Hudson River, conferred by the 17th-century Dutch settlers, whose territory extended to what they called the “South River,” now called the Delaware. And though the race is great fun, with loopy events such as a spinach-eating contest for adults and kids and “best mascot,” this year won by the tug, Debora Miller, which had a donkey on board, the intent is also serious — to honor and celebrate the tugboats and their skilled crew who are an essential part of commerce in New York City’s harbor.
Built in 1930 for service on Newtown Creek, W.O. Decker was the oldest boat in this year’s race. Another old boat, the Resolute, built in 1975 in Oyster Bay, L.I., for the Providence Steamship Company, won the race in the record time of five minutes, covering the course of one nautical mile.
Capt. Charles Restivo was at the helm of the Resolute, which now belongs to the McAllister Towing Co., founded in 1864 by Capt. James McAllister, the great-grandfather of Brian A. McAllister, the current president.
The Resolute has a rope beard in front and on the sides that protects it from banging into other boats and docks.
“Rope fendering is a lost art,” said Restivo. “It’s labor intensive and expensive.”
Capt. Aaron Singh steered the W.O. Decker up and down the river. Afterward, he showed off his six-week-old son, Theodore, and the tug’s two trophies. The Decker was honored with the “Little Toot” award and came in second in its class of boats of 1,000 horsepower or less.
It was one of the last boats to be built in New York harbor with a steam-powered engine. She was subsequently fitted out with a diesel engine, and like some other old-timers in the race, is still at work.
The Seaport Museum uses her as a yard tug. At one time, she also carried passengers for trips around the harbor, but is not U.S. Coast Guard-certified to do that at the moment. The hope is that she will be in the future, joining the museum’s 1885 schooner, Pioneer, as a regular presence in the harbor and a prominent element of its living history.