The Newtown Pentacle

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marine things

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R.I.P John Skelson.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another member of “Team Bernie” has left us, this time it’s photographer John Skelson. John was a life long Staten Islander who spent a lot of his time on the North Shore along the Kill Van Kull photographing passing ships. Working Harbor Committee alumni, John produced shots for the WHC blog’s Friday feature – Ship Spotting with Skelson. Ship Spotting got John noticed by the NY Times and others, and happily I can report that during his final years he enjoyed a certain notoriety in maritime circles. He’s survived by his wife, Phyllis Featherstone.

That’s John Skelson pictured above, at his office on the Kill Van Kull, just a few months before he died.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, in his honor, a few of us met up at Skelson’s office to collect a few shots and reminisce. Will Van Dorp from tugster.com showed up onboard the NY Media Boat. Afterwards, we retired to Liedy’s Shore Inn, drank a beer or two, and then headed back to other parts of the archipelago.

You people have no idea how connected all of us are to each other, out there on the edge of the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Team Bernie, as mentioned above, was the collection of harbor rats, rail enthusiasts, and antiquarians whom photographer Bernie Ente included on his adventures. Bernie went first, cancer. John Doswell went next, cancer. Skelson just died, cancer.

And you people wonder why I’m so obsessed with what’s lurking in the water. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

John Skelson was a good and kind man, as were Bernie Ente and John Doswell. He, and they, are dearly missed. The collective knowledge which died with them, which will be lost to time, is irreplaceable. Bernie, also a photographer left behind a wife and daughter, who are doing fine last I heard. Capt. Doswell’s wife Jeanne is still one of the operative and moving gears which allows Working Harbor Committee to continue.

And you people wonder why I blog every day, and kiss Our Lady of the Pentacle every chance I get.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s the worst part of growing older – just at that moment when you’ve got yourself figured out, know what and who you actually are – that’s when it comes. All the wasted time and emotional tumult, all the troubles and tribulations, just at the point when you’ve “figured your shit out” is when it all ends. That’s when all that’s left are clothes, papers and possessions, and someone you love finds themselves alone. There’s some truth to the concept that the person that suffers least is the one who died. Saying that, cancer.

And you people wonder why I’m the guy with the sign boards in Times Square that say “the end is nigh.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is Skelson’s Office. The tracks of the Staten Island Railroad are still there, at the corner of Richmond Terrace and Bard Avenue, between the gas station parking lot and the water. A general call is going out to the maritime community to refer to it as such. For those of you interested in photographing the show along the Kill Van Kull, Skelson’s Office is available for new tenants. Bring a zoom lens, and dress warm. Get there early, stay there late. NY Harbor never disappoints.

And you people wonder why I talk about legacy and “passing it on” so much. 

Also, on a completely different note:

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Want to get involved in the future of the Montauk Cutoff? A “visioning meeting” will be taking place tonight (December 2nd) at LIC’s Nomad Cycle (47-10 Austell Pl, Queens, NY 11101), between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. There will be snacks!

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

land adjacent

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Reinauer’s Matthew Tibbets Tug, Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, one is taking a short break – hence the singular image which greets you above. Back soon with new stuff.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 13, 2015 at 11:00 am

fresh surprise

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Megalopolis harbor, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Saturday, a welcome return to the bosom of the Working Harbor Committee was enjoyed. WHC’s programming this year has occurred on Saturdays, when I’ve largely been busy with my own Newtown Creek and Kill Van Kull tours, and accordingly I’ve missed most of the 2014 schedule. Luckily, I got onboard the Port Elizabeth Newark Bay trip which occurred onboard a Circle Line vessel. Even luckier, I wasn’t asked to speak on the mike, so I stuck my headphones in and turned up the heavy metal and started shooting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The headphones weren’t deployed because I didn’t want to pay attention to the three speakers onboard – Ed Kelly, Gordon Cooper, and Capt. Maggie Flanagan – I did, but one needed to tune out distraction. Look up, down, all around… shoot everything… record, reveal, recall. This is something truly enjoyed by one such as myself, and I wasn’t seeking companionship on this trip – which is something I enjoy less and less these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a couple of WHC trips still on the schedule for this year – a circumnavigation of Staten Island and an exploration of Gowanus Bay, I believe. Tomorrow, I’ll have some shots from last Sunday’s WHC event – the Great North River Tugboat Race and Competition – for you.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Walking Tour this weekend-

Saturday, September 6th, The Insalubrious Valley of the the Newtown Creek
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 4, 2014 at 11:56 am

moment grows

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Maritime Sunday once more washes ashore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A short post today, with a single shot depicting the Franklin Reinauer and Dace Reinauer tugs in port at Erie Basin in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Even tugs deserve a day off now and then, lords and ladies, especially on a holiday weekend’s Maritime Sunday.

Want to see something cool? Upcoming Walking Tours

Modern Corridor Saturday, July 13, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

seldom alone

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Its tugboat Morgan Reinauer in today’s Maritime Sunday post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Weighing in at 184 tons, Morgan Reinauer was built in Louisiana in 1981, and is enjoying its third incarnation. It was built and launched as “Elise M” for its original owner, was the “Exxon Garden State” for an interval, and became jacketed in the Reinauer color way during the early 1990’s. She’s towing the RTC 101, a hundred thousand bbl double hulled fuel barge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Local boy status notwithstanding, Reinauer is based on Staten Island, the company which operates this boat was founded in 1923 and enjoys a service area which stretches from Maine to the Caribbean Sea. Their roster of tugs is fairly enormous, and these shots are the first time that your humble narrator has encountered this particular vessel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “articulated” tug and barge combo, a term which indicates that there is an electronic interface tethering the two together, was headed for the Kill Van Kull. Presumptively, since the barge was riding high in the water and was likely empty, they were headed toward one of the distribution facilities on the waterway’s New Jersey side which is referred to as the “chemical coast.”

Want to see something cool? Summer 2013 Walking Tours-

The Insalubrious Valley Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

Modern Corridor- Saturday, July 13, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

momentary panic

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve got a boo-boo.

On May 12, your humble narrator conducted a walking tour of Dutch Kills and Newtown Creek which ended at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk in Brooklyn. Having concluded the day’s exertions, the pathway back to benighted Astoria followed the familiar route of crossing the Pulaski Bridge.

At mid span, I noticed a tugboat- the Franklin Reinauer- waiting for the bridge to open, and decided to take advantage of its static position to gather a few shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Franklin Reinauer has been featured here in prior postings, and in an attempt to capture a slightly different angle of the vessel (as I’ve taken virtually identical shots of it from this very spot in the past), I decided to climb up on the weird wooden “art thing” which is installed mid span on the bridge.

Happy with the quality of light and the positioning of the ship in my shot, I noticed that the DOT bridge crew had shown up to open the Pulaski and allow the tug access to the Newtown Creek. Desire to get shots of the tug entering the Creek from below infected me and I tucked away my gear and attempted to dismount the “wooden art thing”.

That’s when it happened.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The injury wasn’t severe enough to preclude me from flying down the stairs and getting the shots I desired, as evinced above and below, but the swelling had already started.

As I was climbing down from the “wooden art thing”, I put my left hand down to steady myself as I descended back to the deck. My left thumb then exceeded its normal course and bent approximately forty five degrees in the wrong direction. While I didn’t hear the cracking sound familiar to anyone who has broken a bone, there was a distinct and rather disturbing “pop” that travelled up my arm.

It immediately began to swell.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By the time that the shot above was captured, an ugly and redolent bruise was spreading around the joint, and the big muscle at the heel of my hand (where the thumb joins the wrist) had swollen up and it appeared as if I had an apricot growing in the shallow part of my palm. Ibuprofen and an ice pack were applied back at HQ, and the swelling subsided after a day or two. Full range of motion, and normal gripping strength, were confirmed and no doctoring seemed to be required. Today, it is still sore, but on the mend.

This is the tale of my boo-boo.

At least I got my shots.

sight within

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maritime Sunday is here once again, and this time around your Newtown Pentacle is focusing in on something most New Yorkers wouldn’t believe exists within the five boroughs- graving or dry docks. These shots are of the Cadell yard, along the Staten Island border formed by the Kill Van Kull.

from wikipedia

A floating drydock is a type of pontoon for dry docking ships, possessing floodable buoyancy chambers and a “U” shaped cross-section. The walls are used to give the drydock stability when the floor or deck is below the surface of the water. When valves are opened, the chambers fill with water, causing the drydock to float lower in the water. The deck becomes submerged and this allows a ship to be moved into position inside. When the water is pumped out of the chambers, the drydock rises and the ship is lifted out of the water on the rising deck, allowing work to proceed on the ship’s hull.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tugs, in particular, take a lot of abuse. Towing hundreds of millions of tons through choppy waters puts terrific strain on their hull and superstructure. Just like the family car, they occasionally need to head for a garage to be inspected and repaired- or just painted to avoid the corruption of oxidation.

from caddelldrydock.com

CADDELL DRY DOCK AND REPAIR CO., INC (Caddell) accommodates a wide variety of marine vessels on its floating dry docks and piers. The Caddell facility is one of the largest full service shipyards in the New York Metropolitan Area. In addition to our dry docking services, we offer pier side repair work available on our network of eight piers with crane operations able to extend up to 200′ and capable handling loads up to 6500 tons. Caddell has carried on the noble maritime tradition and legacy of a uniquely exceptional shipyard by providing quality and prompt service at competitive prices for the surounding New York City region for more than a century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like a lot of heavy industries, the graving docks have largely left New York City. Large facilities at Atlantic Basin in Red Hook and other places have simply been left to rot away. The ones in Staten Island seem to be hanging on, doing essential work that keeps the harbor moving.

from globalsecurity.org

Building and repairing boats and ships was Staten Island’s most important industry before the First World War. One of the Island’s earliest and most important shipyards belonged to William and James M. Rutan. Their shipyard produced about a 100 schooners and sloops per year. There were 17 shipyards on Staten Island by 1880, located on the North Shore, in Stapleton and in Tottenville. Tugs, propeller yachts and coal barges were built there. US Navy and international shipping in the late 1800s produced a need for large shipyards. They could be found along the Kill van Kull near Mariners Harbor and Port Richmond. In 1901-1902, Townsend and Downey Shipyard built the Meteor III, an imperial yacht for Kaiser Wilhelm. By the 1920s, 18 shipyards employed 6,800 people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and shows the other sort of drydock, a granite pit outfitted with sea walls and gargantuan pumping mechanisms that can accommodate all but the very largest shipping.

from wikipedia

On the eve of World War II, the yard contained more than five miles (8 km) of paved streets, four drydocks ranging in length from 326 to 700 feet (99 to 213 meters), two steel shipways, and six pontoons and cylindrical floats for salvage work, barracks for marines, a power plant, a large radio station, and a railroad spur, as well as the expected foundries, machine shops, and warehouses. In 1937 the battleship North Carolina was laid down. In 1938, the yard employed about ten thousand men, of whom one-third were Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers. The battleship Iowa was completed in 1942 followed by the Missouri which became the site of the Surrender of Japan 2 September 1945. On 12 January 1953, test operations began on Antietam, which emerged in December 1952 from the yard as America’s first angled-deck aircraft carrier.

The US Navy took possession of PT 109 on 10 July 1942, and the boat was delivered to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for fitting.

This boat was sunk in the Pacific in August 1943 and became famous years later when its young commander, Lt. John F. Kennedy, entered politics.

At its peak, during World War II, the yard employed 70,000 people, 24 hours a day.

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