The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Kill Van Kull walk 1

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A legendarily squalid and desolate abode of pirates, gangsters, and irresolute opportunists- the docks of Manhattan- have been recast by modernity as “the financial district”- and simply referred to as “wall street”. The end of the line, the Staten Island Ferry docks at South Ferry and offers a free maritime connection between the far flung Staten Island and Manhattan across New York Harbor. The boat leaves every half hour, like clockwork (and the fleet is orange).

from wikipedia

The origin of the name South Ferry is probably one of the more misunderstood trivia, even to New Yorkers accustomed to using it in a geographical sense. One would suppose that it is so called because it is at the southern tip of Manhattan, and it hosts ferries. In actuality, it was the name of the South Ferry, one of several ferries between what were then the separate cities of New York and Brooklyn. The “Old Ferry”, which later was renamed the “Fulton Ferry”, crossed between Manhattan and Brooklyn from streets that in each city would eventually be renamed “Fulton Street” after the ferry company. The “New Ferry” crossed further east, between Catherine Street in Manhattan, and Main Street in Brooklyn.

As the City of Brooklyn grew, the area south of Atlantic Avenue (known as “South Brooklyn”) began to become built-up, but lacked easy access to the ferry terminals in the northern parts of the city of Brooklyn. Thus, a new ferry was established in 1836 to take passengers directly to Atlantic Avenue and the southern parts of the City of Brooklyn, and so was called the “South Ferry”. The ferry connected to the foot of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad (later part of the Long Island Rail Road) through the Cobble Hill Tunnel. In addition, South Ferry was the name of the Brooklyn landing and ferry house of the aforementioned ferry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another great opportunity to take photos of the shining city is offered by this short trip, and one must pick a spot soon after boarding or the masses of camera wielding citizenry will cheat you out from an unoccluded vantage point. Staten Island is a rapidly growing part of New York City, a hilly district of quiet and well planted streets that frame envious homes on one shore, and highways lined with medium density apartment houses and condominiums on the other which are served by a never ending series of strip malls and the occasional “big box” store. The older sections of the community are of maritime heritage, largely, and clustered around the Kill Van Kull.

from wikipedia

In the 1700s ferry service between Staten Island and the city of New York (then occupying only the southern tip of Manhattan) was conducted by private individuals with “periaugers”, shallow-draft, two-masted sailboats used for local traffic in New York harbor. In the early 1800s, Vice President (and former New York governor) Daniel D. Tompkins secured a charter for the Richmond Turnpike Company, as part of his efforts to develop the village of Tompkinsville; though intended to build a highway across Staten Island, the company also received the right to run a ferry to New York. The Richmond Turnpike Company is the direct ancestor of the current municipal ferry.

In 1817 the Richmond Turnpike Company began to run the first motorized ferry between New York and Staten Island, the steam-powered Nautilus. It was commanded by Captain John De Forest, the brother-in-law of a young man named Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1838 Vanderbilt, who had grown wealthy in the steamboat business in New York waters, bought control of the company. Except for a brief period in the 1850s, he would remain the dominant figure in the ferry until the Civil War, when he sold it to the Staten Island Railway, led by his brother Jacob Vanderbilt. (Three of the Staten Island ferries were requisitioned by the United States Army for service in the war, but none ever returned to New York harbor.)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just after passing Liberty Island, an abundance of industrial terminals and petroleum mills are apparent. A dizzying display of technology may be observed as the Ferry makes its way from Manhattan to Staten Island, and the lighting conditions demand a morning trip for photographic opportunities to be realized. You don’t have to be up fiendishly early, these shots for instance, were from a ferry ride that left Manhattan at 9:30 AM.


The Staten Island Ferry has been a municipal service since 1905, and currently carries over 21 million passengers annually on a 5.2-mile run between the St. George Terminal in Staten Island and the Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan. Service is provided 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Staten Island Ferry is the most reliable form of mass transit, with an on-time performance of over 96 percent.

A typical weekday schedule involves the use of five boats to transport approximately 65,000 passengers daily (110 daily trips). A four-boat (15 minute headway) rush hour schedule is maintained. During the day, between rush hours, boats are regularly fueled and maintenance work is performed. Terminals are cleaned around the clock and routine terminal maintenance is performed on the day shift. On weekends, three boats are used (64 trips each weekend day). Over 33,000 trips are made annually. Ferry terminal supervisors, assigned around the clock at both Whitehall and St. George, are responsible for ensuring that the ferry operates according to its published schedule (pdf) or (html).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Vane Bros. Choptank, a very modern tug built by Thoma-Sea, a shipbuilder which operates out of the Lockport shipyard in Houma, LA. Vane Bros. and its plans for an ultra modern fleet was featured in a 2007 feature at


The tug Choptank is the fifth in a line of Patapsco-class tugs.  Like her sister tugs, she was designed by Frank Basile of Entech & Associates, and built by the Thoma-Sea Boat Builders in Houma, Louisiana. She joined the fleet in January 2007, and was subsequently named one of the “17 top new tugs of 2007” by American Tugboat Review, an annual publication of Professional Mariner.  

The Choptank is 95’ long, 34’ abeam, and 15’ deep. Her gross tonnage is 99 tons. She is powered by two CAT 3516, 2100 horsepower engines with Kort nozzles, and maintains running speeds of better than 12 knots. Featuring a model bow and square stern, her fuel capacity is approximately 90,000 gallons. Potable water capacity is approximately 9,000 gallons. With accommodations for seven crew members, the Choptank is dedicated to 50-class tank barges on the coastwide trade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I love this boat, the Tug Ellen McAllister. A familiar sight in New York Harbor, it’s actually the same age as I am. I mentioned this ship in a posting about last June’s Working Harbor Committee “Sunset Cruise”.

The tug Ellen McAllister was originally built for the U.S. Navy, as the Piqua, at the Marinette Marine Shipyards in Wisconsin in July of 1967. The Piqua’s anchorage for many years was at Holy Loch, Scotland. It spent most of its naval career providing tug services for the 1st naval district and the Atlantic Fleet. It was sold under its current name in 2001 to McAllister Towing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over there, that’s the Peter F. Gallatly, another Thoma-Sea built ship. A 1,200 HP, 327 GT tugboat, it went into service in December of 2008.



Official #: 1212432

  • Year Built: December, 2008
  • Dimensions: 100’L x 34’B x 15’D (Molded)
  • Gross Tons: 327 tons
  • Net Tons: 98 tons
  • Draft Loaded: 13.6 Feet
  • Speed Light: 11 Knots
  • Classifications: Endorsement for Oceans, Coastwise Trade, ABS Load Line
  • Eye Level: Lower Pilot House (23 Feet)
  • Upper Pilot House (40 Feet)
  • Capacities:
  • Fuel Oil 85,900 Gallons
  • Lube Oil 662 Gallons
  • Hydraulic Oil  496 Gallons
  • Gear Oil 662 Gallons
  • Potable Water 8,816 Gallons
  • Ballast Water 10,621 Gallons
  • Dirty Bilge 1,263 Gallons
  • Dirty Lube Oil 1,306 Gallons
  • Grey/Brown Water 3,898 Gallons (ZERO (0) Discharge Compliant)
  • Horse Power: 4,200 Continuous
  • Main Engines: (2) 3516 CAT @ 1600 RPM Tier 2 Compliant
  • Reduction Gears: (2) Reintjes WAF 11 37 7.087:1 Reduction with Shaft Brakes
  • Propellers: (2) Rolls-Royce Stainless Steel (4) Blades GWAN 104″ x 77″
  • Pitch ABS Open Wheel
  • Shafts: 9 1/2″ Diameter
  • Generators: (2) John Deere 6068T 99KW 120/208V Tier 2 Complaint
  • Towing Winch: (1) Intercon DD200 Double Drum with Level Winder and Capsan
  • 2,200′ x 2 ¼” Galv. Cable
  • 1,000′ x 1 3/4″ Galv. Cable
  • John Deere Engine, Torque Converter Tier 2 Complaint
  • Towing Arch: 8″ x Sch. 120 with (2) Bronze Bushed Sheaves
  • Air Compressors: (2) Quincy 325 Operating @ 150 PSI with 160 Gallon Receiver
  • C02 System: Herbert Hiller

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just as the Ferry was maneuvering into its dock at St. George Terminal on Staten Island, Ellen McAllister was good enough to move into an egregious spot. This tugboat, of course, was the Division A winner of the 17th Annual Running of the Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition in 2009 and its Captain, Kirk Watts, won the contest for “Best Tattoo”. I was on a circleline observer boat at the event, and photos from the race can be found in this set at flickr.


McAllister Towing is one of the oldest and largest marine towing and transportation companies in the United States.  They operate a fleet of more than seventy tugboats and twelve barges along the East Coast from Portland, Maine to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Although their corporate headquarters are located in New York City they operates in the ports of: Portland Maine, Staten Island New York, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; Hampton Roads, Virginia; Wilmington North Carolina, Georgetown, and Charleston, South Carolina as well as Jacksonville, and Port Everglades, Florida; including San Juan Puerto Rico.  McAllister engages in ship docking, general harbor towing, coastal towing and bulk transportation.

Captain James McAllister started the first McAllister enterprise shortly after he arrived from Cushendall, County Antrim, Ireland . Together with his brothers and in-laws, McAllister formed the Greenpoint Lighterage Company. They augmented the lighterage business with towing, with the acquisition of their first steam tug, the R.W. Burke, in the 1880’s, while the Brooklyn Bridge was still being built.  In the early twentieth century there was a period of innovation and expansion.  Captain James was one of the first to convert a sail lighter into a bulk oil carrier, for the transport of oil around New York Harbor. The company also became known nationally for its salvage work, which extended from the West Indies, along the Atlantic Coast as far north as Maine.

In 1909, the company acquired the Starin Fleet of steamboat excursion vessels, forming the McAllister Steamboat Company, which was then among the largest excursion boat operators in New York, with regular runs to the Statue of Liberty, Bear Mountain, Coney Island, and Long Island.  After the death of Captain James in 1916, his four sons assumed control of the company.  The new partnership consisted of James, John E., Charles D. and William H., the second generation of McAllisters.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 13, 2010 at 8:18 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] leave a comment » for part one, click here […]

  2. […] enterprises of New York Harbor- especially the petrochemical empires that line the shores of the Kill Van Kull in distant… Staten Island. Additionally the car shredders and other recycling facilities, […]

  3. […] Tugboats are seldom observed at work this close, and certainly -in my limited experience- it is a rare thing to see one in such a nearly static position relative to the […]

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