The Newtown Pentacle

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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.


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.


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.

oily river

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently witnessed, the Reinauer Towing tugboat Matthew Tibbets maneuvering a fuel barge through the languid expanse of the legend choked Newtown Creek.

Just a short one today, still playing catch up from a recent bout with some unknown and untrammeled organism, which is best thought of as some mere virus.

desolate eternities

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator has been enlaced in several ventures which have required assiduous effort for the last several days. Promissory obligation and contractual agreement precludes revelation of the substance of these recent labors, but suffice to say that sartorial glee will abound about the Pentacle when announcements are uttered aloud.


Built in 1984, by Rayco Ship and Main Ironworks of Bourg, Louisiana as the Franklin Reinauer for Reinauer Transportation Companies of Staten Island, New York.

The Franklin Reinauer was the last tug built by the yard, after the construction of three push boats for another company, in 1985 the yard went out of business.

The tug is the second to bear the the name. The first tug that bore the name Franklin Reinauer was renamed as the Matthew Tibbetts.

She is a twin screw tug rated at 2,600 horsepower.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured in many poses and places in this posting, and presented perspicuously is the tugboat which men call the Franklin Reinauer. Often garish, the “colorway” of each tugboat company is designed to be instantly recognizable at distance. There is something lovely about the Reinauer company’s brand colors of scarlet and orange, which provides primal contrasts with the surrounding azure and cerulean waterscape of New York Harbor.


When the Coast Guard called for all assistance, some tugboats were already at the scene with others making ready to assist. The tugboat Franklin Reinauer, under Capt. Ken Peterson and followed by three other Reinauer tugboats, arrived at the Battery seawall around 1130. Peterson said he radioed the MCC aboard the pilot boat New York for permission to go to the Battery seawall to take on passengers. Seeing 10 other tugboats standing off the Battery, he radioed them to come to the seawall. “People started running for the boats and I got off and started directing traffic,” Peterson said. “The first day, we had 27 tugboats on the Battery wall and five at Pier 11.” Tugboats from Moran, McAllister, Turracamo, Reinauer, Penn Maritime, Skaugen PetroTrans, Weeks Marine and other companies responded and continued to arrive during the afternoon. “It quickly became a collaborative effort with Andy McGovern, Ken Peterson and me determining how to best employ all the resources,” Day said.

Fire-fighting efforts at Ground Zero relied heavily on water supplied by two city fireboats and a welcome addition, the ex-New York City fireboat John J. Harvey. Privately purchased by outbidding the scrap dealers in 1999, the boat had been repaired since then and docked at Hudson River Pier 63.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luck has placed me at enviable vantages all summer, and an enormous amount of time has been spent on and around the harbor, during which the Franklin Reinauer seemed almost a companion. Everywhere I went, it seemed the tugboat was there too. In the shots above, the Franklin Reinauer was maintaining a static position before the Pulaski Bridge on the Newtown Creek, undoubtedly awaiting the arrival of some stalwart steward of the drawbridge who would open the span and allow it further egress.


Newtown Creek is woven deeply into the city’s history. Until the Dutch arrived, the Maspetches Indians lived along its banks in what is now Maspeth, Queens. Some believe that Captain Kidd used a friend’s waterfront property there to stash his plunder. The creek was part of a boundary dispute from the mid- 1600’s to the mid-1700’s between Bushwick and Newtown, the precursors to Brooklyn and Queens.

But it was through commerce that the waterway came into its prime.

By the 1850’s, the creek was an industrial center that both fueled and paralleled the explosive growth of New York. Glue factories, smelting and fat-rendering plants, one of the earliest kerosene refinery and other smelly enterprises clustered along the shores of the creek and its little tributaries. The toxic sludge from these businesses got company in 1856, when the city decided to dump raw sewage directly into the water, a practice that continued for decades.

In the 1920’s and 30’s, the creek was widened to accommodate the growing traffic. In its heyday, the bridges that crossed it opened tens of thousands of times a year.

“Newtown Creek was a highway,” said Bernard Ente, a local historian. “It was just boats instead of trucks.” He estimated that 500 enterprises lined the creek at its peak. Large boats brought in raw materials and fuel and took out oil, fat, varnish, chemicals and metals.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There it is again, this time in the legend choked waters off of Red Hook, and exiting the Erie Basin. A small number of Reinauer tugs and barges are often observed here at Erie Basin, which is known to most New Yorkers for the large Ikea store and NY Water Taxi Ferry service which docks here.


From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, Red Hook’s port made it a thriving industrial neighborhood of mainly Italian and Irish American dockworkers. It was also home to one of the first Puerto Rican neighborhoods in New York City. By 1950, Red Hook had 21,000 residents, many of them longshoremen living in the Red Hook Houses, a public housing project built in 1938 to accommodate the growing number of dockworkers and their families. The neighborhood had a tough reputation—with such notorious figures as Al Capone getting their start there as small-time criminals—and its seedy side was immortalized in movies such as the On the Waterfront (1954), starring a young Marlon Brando.

When containerization shipping replaced traditional bulk shipping in the 1960s, many businesses at the Red Hook ports moved to New Jersey—as did the jobs. Unemployment increased quickly as industries abandoned Red Hook, and the neighborhood’s economy underwent a rapid decline. By the 1970s and ‘80s, it became known as being a crime-ridden, desolate neighborhood, severed from the rest of Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mundane and sometimes odd coincidences of geography, maritime, and industrial usage create an unbearable historical similarity between Red Hook and Greenpoint which are deeper and more meaningful than some merely visual verisimilitude. Just on the other side of Erie Basin is the legendary Gowanus canal, Newtown Creek’s superfund.


The industrial businesses that exist in Red Hook rely on trucking as the primary way to move goods and freight into and out of the area. Heavy truck traffic has had a serious impact on the residential population and most likely contributed to infrastructure failures and the collapse of some of the older buildings in the area. The geological substrata of this coastal floodplain region contains a dense organic layer of red clay (hence the “red” in Red Hook) that exacerbates the longitudinal transmission of surface vibrations. For years efforts have been underway to reevaluate the existing Truck Route network with an eye toward minimizing its direct impact on the residential community while optimizing its intended industrial usage. The existence of truck-based solid waste transfer stations, that provide little by way of economic development of the community, has contributed to the problem of truck traffic in a major way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek and Gowanus Canal have both been largely abandoned by those industrial forces which ruined their honor, but the tugboat has also and often been sighted in the place where these forces find modern occupation- the storied waterway called the Kill Van Kull.

Here is the Franklin Reinauer straddling this currently undefended border between New York and New Jersey.

from wikipedia

The name “Kill van Kull” has its roots in the early 17th century during the Dutch colonial era, when the region was part of New Netherland. The naming of places by early explorers and settlers during the era often referred to a location in reference to other places, its shape, its topography, and other geographic qualities. The area around the Newark Bay was called Achter Kol. The bay lies behind Bergen Hill, the emerging ridge of the Hudson Palisades which begins on Bergen Neck, the peninsula between it and the Upper New York Bay. Behind or achter the ridge, was a col or passage to the interior. Kill comes from the Middle Dutch word kille, meaning riverbed, water channel, or stream. During the British colonial era the bay was known as Cull bay.

Kill van Kull translates as channel from the pass or ridge. The name of the sister channel to the Kill van Kull, the nearby Arthur Kill, is an anglicization of achter kill meaning back channel, which would refer to its location “behind” Staten Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Preparations for a vast undertaking, as mentioned in the first sentence of this evasive post, have finally been completed- a task which Sisyphus himself would have appreciated. Woe, that today I cannot accomplish my sincerest desire to announce these upcoming events. All a humble narrator can say at this moment would be:

Want to see something cool?

Bring a camera, and ID,

Follow me…

from wikipedia

Seagoing tugboats are in three basic categories:

    1. The standard seagoing tugboat with model bow that tows its “payload” on a hawser.
    2. The “notch tug” which can be secured in a notch at the stern of a specially designed barge, effectively making the combination a ship. This configuration is dangerous to use with a barge which is “in ballast” (no cargo) or in a head or following sea. Therefore, the “notch tugs” are usually built with a towing winch. With this configuration, the barge being pushed might approach the size of a small ship, the interaction of the water flow allows a higher speed with a minimal increase in power required or fuel consumption.
    3. The “integral unit,” “integrated tug and barge,” or “ITB,” comprises specially designed vessels that lock together in such a rigid and strong method as to be certified as such by authorities (classification societies) such as the American Bureau of Shipping, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, Indian Register of Shipping, Det Norske Veritas or several others.These units stay combined under virtually any sea conditions and the “tugs” usually have poor sea keeping designs for navigation without their “barges” attached. Vessels in this category are legally considered to be ships rather than tugboats and barges must be staffed accordingly. These vessels must show navigation lights compliant with those required of ships rather than those required of tugboats and vessels under tow. Articulated tug and barge units also utilize mechanical means to connect to their barges. ATB’s generally utilize Intercon and Bludworth connection systems. Other available systems include Articouple, Hydraconn and Beacon Jak. ATB’s are generally staffed as a large tugboat, with between seven to nine crew members. The typical American ATB operating on the east coast, per custom, displays navigational lights of a towing vessel pushing ahead, as described in the ’72 COLREGS.

Harbor tugs. Historically tugboats were the first seagoing vessels with steam propulsion, providing freedom from the restraint of the wind. As such, they were employed in harbors to assist ships in docking and departure.

River tugs River tugs are also referred to as towboats or pushboats. Their hull designs would make open ocean operation dangerous. River tugs usually do not have any significant hawser or winch. Their hulls feature a flat front or bow to line up with the rectangular stern of the barge.


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