The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for May 20th, 2012

strenuous program

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Note: This maritime sunday installment is a “reblog” of the Newtown Pentacle posting “cleanly picked” from August of 2010

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On one of the periodic Working Harbor Committee trips across the estuarine expanses of New York Harbor, your humble narrator became paralyzed with terror when a benthic shadow slid alongside the vessel which carried my withered husk. The shape, as that’s all I saw of it, made no sense to me and matched no phyla or phenotype familiar to my admittedly limited experience. Imagination working, it was decided that the best course of action to steady my faltering sanity would be to focus in on those things material, tangible, and engineered according to the familiar laws of physics.

In this case, it was the Tugboat “Miss Gill” cruising in photogenic splendor against the mist wrapped backdrop of the shining city of Manhattan.


The Miss Gill spent a year at Main Iron Works in 2005 having various tanks, exterior plate and bulwarks renewed.  During this yard period her winch was completely rebuilt and two new 2′ cables were installed.   We bought her during this shipyard renovation, operated the her for 24 months and in mid 2008 took her back to the yard for further investment.  We replaced her main engines with Caterpillar tier II technology that make her an honest 3000BHP, her reduction gears were replaced with ZF technology, and new John Deere/Kohler generators were installed.  These tier II engines are the most advanced electronic platform available.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shadow, or shape, that I had spied was long obscured when a Coast Guard vessel suddenly burst into view. Fully armed, one of the redoubtable guardians of the archipelago’s frontier was manning a high caliber weapon and the boat was moving at a fantastic rate of speed, punching its way through the heavy wakes of ferry, tug, and ship alike. Recognizing that it shared some design characteristics with an NYPD harbor craft described in a recent post here- at your Newtown Pentacle- “exhalted beyond thought“, I noticed it was being followed by an even larger Federal boat.

I believe this to be a Defender class “Response Boat Small”.


Developed in a direct response to the need for additional Homeland Security assets in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Defender Class boats were procured under an emergency acquisition authority. With a contract for up to 700 standard response boats, the Defender Class acquisition is one of the largest boat buys of its type in the world. The 100 boat Defender A Class (RB-HS) fleet began arriving at units in MAY 2002 and continued through AUG 2003. After several configuration changes, most notably a longer cabin and shock mitigating rear seats, the Defender B Class (RB-S) boats were born. This fleet was first delivered to the field in OCT 2003, and there are currently 357 RB-S boats in operation.

The 457 Defender Class boats currently in operation are assigned to the Coast Guards Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSST), Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT), Marine Safety Units (MSU), and Small Boat Stations throughout the Coast Guard. With an overall length of 25 feet, two 225 horsepower outboard engines, unique turning radius, and gun mounts boat forward and aft, the Defender Class boats are the ultimate waterborne assets for conducting fast and high speed maneuvering tactics in a small deployable package. This is evidenced in the fact that several Defender Class boats are already in operation by other Homeland Security Department agencies as well as foreign military services for their homeland security missions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was followed by a second and larger vessel, also with a manned weapons platform.  If I’m correct, this is the Coast Guard “Response Boat Medium” or “RB-M”. Vessels of this design will automatically right themselves after being capsized, incidentally.

Whether or not these federal watercraft had arrived on the scene in connection with the subsurface apparition I had witnessed is anyone’s guess.


State-of-the-art marine technology makes the RB-M a high performer with waterjet propulsion, an advanced electrical system, and integrated electronics that allow greater control from the pilot house.

Technological and design features will improve search object tracking, water recovery efforts, crew comfort, and maneuvering/ intercept capabilities for defense operations. With the latest developments in integrated navigation and radiotelephony, command and control will be greatly enhanced, as will crew safety.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For such a busy waterway, modernity upon the Harbor of New York has not been kind to folklore. In the 19th century, lurid accounts of odd benthic organisms served to titillate and excite the attention of small boy and adult alike filtered in from the trans-atlantic routes. Stories of the Ottoman territories, and far away China, and the exotic British Raj.

There aren’t many tales I can point to which might describe anything like the shape I saw, suffice to say it was something like an egg all caught up in wriggling ropes. Most of the 19th century reports describe literal sea-serpents, but such saurian behemoths would be easy prey for the Coast Guard.

from wikipedia

The response boat-medium (RBM) is a 45-foot (13.7m) utility boat used by the United States Coast Guard. It is intended as a replacement for the Coast Guard’s fleet of 41′ utility boats (UTB), which have been in use by the Coast Guard since the 1970s. The Coast Guard plans to acquire 180 of these RB-Ms over a 6–10 year period. The boats will be built by Kvichak Marine Industries of Kent, Washington and Marinette Marine of Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It has always puzzled me, the way that New York City is nearly devoid of supernatural lore, while its counterparts- Boston to the north, and Philadelphia to the south are so rich in it. Connecticut and the corridor of towns and cities that line the Hudson all the way to its font in Lake Tear of the Clouds compose one of the great occult highways. Utopias and experiments in urban planning line the river, as do tales of hessian horsemen and ghostly ferries and trains. It all stops at the Bronx, though.

Perhaps its the financial realities of New York City, the no nonsense and to the minute mentality, or maybe its the street lighting- but London is very much in the same vein of city as we are, and they’re the original inventors of gothic spooky.

Maybe it’s that in New York, you’re biggest fear isn’t what goes bump in the night but rather losing your job, or getting into trouble with some all too human monsters.

for an overwhelming example of the defense industry’s love of CGI and fancy web design, click here to check out the USCG sitelet for the RB-M, which includes an interactive 3D model and fancy graphics.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shadow I observed seemed to be heading toward Red Hook, but the likely explanation was that the nearby Staten Island Ferry had simply cast a refracted image of itself or that the wake of a passing tuboat had disturbed some riverine sediments. The coincidence of the arrival of two armed Coast Guard vessels was just part of some regular patrol schedule, not a response to some unknown thing which could not possibly exist down there.


from wikipedia

“Burned-over district” refers to the religious scene in upstate New York in the early 19th century, which was repeatedly “burned over” by religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening.

The term was coined by Charles Grandison Finney who in his 1876 book Autobiography of Charles G. Finney referred to a “burnt district” (p78) to denote an area in central and western New York State during the Second Great Awakening. The name was inspired by the notion that the area had been so heavily evangelized as to have no “fuel” (unconverted population) left over to “burn” (convert).

When religion is related to reform movements of the period, such as abolition, women’s rights, and utopian social experiments, the region expands to include areas of central New York that were important to these movements.

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