Saturday 1 August 2015

Former U.S. Army Tug BOWDITCH

To quote then President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, "let me make myself perfectly clear" not only am I too "not a crook", but I have to admit other than a warship of any kind, my next favourite boat is a tug. Believe it or DON'T c):-l
Since Port Colborne, Ontario is only 20 miles away from Buffalo, New York, growing up there in the 50's and 60's had one key advantage over most any other Canadian kid growing up back then and that was "American TV". Instead of being stuck with only one TV network in Canada then, the CBC, down there we got three: ABC, NBC, and CBS. Shows, shows and more shows like McHale's Navy, Ensign O'Toole, Convoy, Combat, The Whackiest Ship in the Army and more. In fact though I was only a toddler, I remember being allowed to stay up to watch a show on our black and white TV set called the "Adventures of Tugboat Annie". It was a comedy about this cantankerous women skipper of the tugboat NARCISSUS and her ongoing calamities while taking work away from her rival, Horatio Bullwinkle who captained the tug SALAMANDER. I used to get such a charge out of seeing these small but powerful boats motor at full speed around a harbour like in this link of the show's opening credits ( or seeing photos and painting in library books of Moran tugs with their red cabins and wheelhouse, and the big white "M" displayed on their black smoke stacks while nudging a huge Cunard passenger ship or the USS UNITED STATES to her dock in New York harbour. I guess you can see why I got hooked on tugboats, eh. c):-D

As we drove along Riverside Drive, in Clayton, New York during our recent "Journey to the OTHER SIDE!!, I couldn't help but notice a good size boat tied off to a jetty behind what looked like a warehouse. I reversed the car to get a better look and there she was, a "tugboat" with a red pilothouse and cabins, and a black stack just like the Moran harbour tugs I saw in the library books as a kid. She even had a bridge ladder below her pilothouse just the NARCISSUS in "Tugboat Annie". YES!! Well I couldn't park and get out of the car fast enough. I scurried down though a boathouse to the waterfront to snap the 71' tug BOWDITCH. Oh YAAA!!! c):-))
While snapping these pics, her skipper, Captain DeWitt Withington came over and told me that the BOWDITCH used to be an army tug and also served with the U.S Army Corp of Engineers before being sold for civilian use. He also mentioned that she's currently used for salvage work along with the other former army tug his company, Abaco Marine Towing LLC owns, the 61.5' CARINA T-516 parked beside the BOWDITCH.

When launched in 1954 at the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Works Yard in Leavenworth, Kansas, she was wasn't given a name, but instead a number, ST-1991 and she was one of the 202 "Small Tugs" that  were built in the early 1950's for the U.S. Army and ranged in sizes between 65' to approximately 100' in length. Say what, the Army has boats? c):-o
Actually during World War II, the American army operated over 127,000 pieces of floating equipment which included landings crafts, amphibians, modular bridges and over 700 tugboats. The 71' ST-1991 spent most of her 4O year career with 73rd Transportation (Floating Craft) Company at Fort Eustis, Virginia and though she did not serve in Viet Nam, ST-1991 would have been used to train personnel for deployment as well as complete heavy tows within the harbour and limited offshore terminals, along with berthing and unberthing cargo ships.
Other than her participation in a joint service sail past ceremony for the Vice President Dan Quayle on July 4th, 1989, I wasn't able to find out much about ST-1991's actual tasks and accomplishment during her days in the Army or when she was transferred over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and renamed ORISKANY. When retired in 1994, she was sold to a Port Everglades based towing company and to be frank, she was given the corny name: HOT DOG. Fortunately, soon after she was sold to Abaco Marine Towing LLC of Clayton, New York she was given a more distinctive name, the BOWDITCH. Nathaniel Bowditch was an early American mathematician who was especially known as the founder of modern maritime navigation. His book, "The New American Practical Navigator" was first published in 1802 and is carried on board every commissioned U.S. Navy ship. By the way, for weekend boat watching warriors like myself who might believe the first part of her name, "Bow" would rhyme with "Cow" or refer to the less often these day "pointy" section at the front of a ship, but in this case "Bow" rhymes with "Tow" which is one of BOWDITCH's common any day tasks in the marine salvage business along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.
This came especially true on the night of March 27, 2012 when a fire broke in the engine room of the downbound tug PATRICE MCALLISTER off Ontario's Prince Edward Point. Though the tug was in Canadian waters, the call for help was heard and actioned by coast guard and airborne search and rescue crews on both sides of the border. BOWDITCH was the first vessel at the scene and when she arrived the MCALLISTER's cabins and pilothouse were engulfed in flames.
BOWDITCH and burned out PATRICE McALLISTER at Clayton, NY
- Photo from Abaco Marine Towing LLC's website 
Immediately, BOWDITCH's water cannon atop of her pilothouse and onboard firehoses went into action, and while her crews extinguished the fire, five  crew members were transferred to the Canadian Coast Guard motorized lifeboat CAPE HEARNE and then transported to Kingston, Ontario. Meanwhile, the tug's chief engineer who was injured when the fire broke out was air lifted by a Royal Canadian Air Force search & rescue helicopter to Belleville, Ontario's hospital and then later transferred to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto where he died the next day. Even though the stricken tug's rudder was jammed at a 10 degree angle. BOWDITCH was able to tow the burnt out PATRICE MCALLISTER to Clayton, New York, the nearest port with appropriate dock space available for both Canadian and American transport & safety board investigation officials to inspect her. Though nameless and working hard without significance or acknowledgement for so many year, the former "small" army tug BOWDITCH came through "big-time" that night, and deserves a "Hero Ship" significance in my book.

When not BOWDITCH's skipper, Captain DeWitt Withington is a seaway marine pilot and owner of a unique little shop on Riverside Drive in Clayton called "The Gold Locker". There, you will find really neat coffee table friendly rope work, charts, notecards and one of a kind mounted prints of photos taken by the Captain while piloting various salties on Lake Ontario and along the Seaway like the one behind our shaking hands of the final downbound salty of last year's shipping season, the 473' Norwegian tanker STEN BERGEN cutting through clear as glass ice between Eisenhower and Snell Locks.
BOWDITCH underway near Clayton from the Abaco Marine website.
As for the BOWDITCH, though working hard nameless for so many year, this former U.S. Army tug came through "big-time" on that cold night in March 2012, and I look forward to seeing her again during our next "Journey to the OTHER SIDE!!

- March 5/20:

I never did make it back up the St. Lawrence to Clayton for another photo op of the BOWDITCH, which is especially disappointing because I have recently been told the former Army tug was sold in September and is now based at Beaver Island, Michigan. Sad that she's now so far away but glad that she's still active and being of use which is what we all would like as we get older in life. She and her crews have experienced so much including a near fatal end in 1970's. Now that's an interesting story. To be continued.... 

UPDATE - APRIL 19, 2020: ...I still don't have all the details of what this hardworking veteran tug is up to but in this photo captured by Barry Andersen, of St. Catharines, Ontario on September 6, 2019, the BOWDITCH is passing through my old hometown, Port Colborne, Ontario on Lake Erie, while in transit to Beaver Island. Still trying to confirm her new owner, tasks and if her name is about to change again. Sorry but her story is not over just yet...
...I don't know if it has to do with COVID-19 or some other circumstances but I still have not been able to make contact with the BOWDITCH (ST-1991)'s new owner on Beaver Island. Meanwhile here's a couple of photos
I found from an area TV station of the former Army tug covered in snow on January 8, 2020.


  1. I served on the St 1991 when it was at Fort Eustis Virginia from 1967 and 1969. I have an official army picture of the boat as it was in those days and also several other pictures under way and from the engine room and wheelhousel. Let me know if you would like to see them.

    1. I'd love to see them Richard and include them in the post. Take care and thanks for your note, Carl

    2. hi richard im a retired tug capt from the west coast worked 26 years for foss maritime co tugboat annie was made for the life of foss founder thea foss the tug used is now arthur foss oredge name was wallawa was a steam tug foss repowered too a washington estep diesel she is still in running shape today she is at northwest seaport musiem anyway i for one would love too see your picture's of this tug and the enginroom i love old tug'd and old tugboat eng'd

  2. I was an engineman (snipe) aboard the Oriskany in 1987 for about a year. I miss the old boat. I was looking it up and was amazed to see it's still running. Does it still have the Atlas Imperial main engine? I remember to go in reverse you would stop the engine and shift the cam to another set of lobes and the whole engine would run in reverse.

  3. I was on the U.S. Army ST1991 65ft. Tugboat as my first assignment out of AIT School. 65 Charlie, Diesel Mechanic. My Cheif Engineer Ernie Ewers was a 3 tour Viet Nam Vet. He knew boats, everybody came to him on how to fix these old things in 1981. 3rd. Port, Ft. Eustis Virginia. The 1991 was always away from port. I logged in over 1.5 yrs of sea time in 2.5 yrs. That little boat never quit and we had the best times up and down the Intercoastal Waterway, Fla, SC,etc. I hope she's still chugging along. KRC.