The Newtown Pentacle

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20th annual North River Tugboat Race- September 2, 2012

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

An upcoming and entirely wholesome opportunity for diversion and entertainment is upon us, as the 20th annual running of the Great North River Tugboat Race will be conducted on the 2nd of September. There are two components to the event which should be considered.


20th Annual Great North River Tugboat Race and Competition to draw more than a dozen tugboats and hundreds of spectators to Hudson River Park

Sunday, September 2, 9:30 a.m. – 2 p.m., Hudson River Park Pier 84 at West 44th Street, Manhattan

Events include a tugboat parade, a river-churning race, nose-to-nose pushing contests, line-throwing, spinach-eating and tattoo competitions. A Circle Line spectator boat will follow the on-the-water action. Good viewing from shore along the West Side riverfront and at Pier 84

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Working Harbor Committee (WHC), a nonprofit group for which I serve on the Steering Committee and which I am tasked with certain duties as its official photographer, conducts the race. This year a large number of tugs, more than 15 at this writing, will be participating.


The Great North River Tugboat Race and Competition – one of New York City’s most popular Labor Day weekend events – returns for the 20th year on Sunday, September 2. More than a dozen tugboats, the maritime 18-wheelers that normally dock ships and push barges, are expected to participate.

The race, on a one-nautical-mile Hudson River course that extends from the West 70s to West 44th Street, typically draws thousands of spectators, some watching from shore; others getting right in the middle of the action aboard a Circle Line spectator boat that travels alongside the tugs.

The tugs come because it’s a chance to show off. “New Yorkers sometimes forget they are surrounded by water and that there is a whole maritime industry working here. This tug competition is the one time a year people can really see what we do,” said Craig Rising of McAllister Towing and Transportation, one of the largest and oldest tug companies in the nation. It is also a field day for the crews who pack their boats with family and friends and enjoy a chance to play on the water and win bragging rights over the competition. “It’s a great way for our families to see a slice of our lives,” said Glen Miller, president of Millers Launch, who plans to enter three tugs in the competition this year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

WHC will, as always, be running a special spectator excursion onboard a comfortable Circle Line ship. Ticketing information is included below. The spectator boat offers uncommon views of the action, and allows enthusiasts and photographers a chance to get close to the fun. Additionally, there will be a free festival of events happening on Pier 84.


When he came up with the idea of a tugboat race in the 1980s, chief judge Jerry Roberts, then a curator at the Intrepid Museum and now executive director of the Connecticut River Museum, didn’t know what to expect. “At that first race I did not know if we were going to get three tugs or six, or any at all,” he recalled. “We got 10, and I knew this was going to work. Twenty years later, the race has become an institution. In an age when New York Harbor has become more and more detached from its maritime roots, this a chance for the men and woman who make their living on the water to show their stuff, and their pride to us landlubbers who live on one of the greatest harbors on earth but don’t even know it.”

Festivities begin at 9:30 a.m. when the spectator boat leaves its dock and the tugs gather off Pier 84 to check in with the race committee and get ready to parade—beauty-pageant style—to the starting line near 79th St. At 10:30, the boats, which typically range in size from 100-foot, 5,000-horsepower monsters to 25-foot, 200-horsepower workboats, get in position behind the starting line. At the sound of a horn, they’re off: engines roaring and smoke belching, as their massive wakes make the river look like an angry ocean.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A family oriented event, the 20th annual Great North River Tugboat Race will have several interesting moments- including a spinach eating contest (all sailors eat their spinach), an unparalleled view of the line toss contests, and an opportunity to interact with the crews of the tugboats which will dock at the pier after the race.


Immediately following the race, the tugs challenge each other to bow-to-bow pushing duels—the nautical version of arm wrestling. Then in what is the toughest test of all, captains steer close to the pier while deckhands attempt to lasso a bollard on Pier 84. The task, which makes horse wrangling seem tame, is something working tugboat crews perform daily, but it requires incredible coordination between captain and crew.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

WHC will be sponsoring several interactive activities for all ages, including line toss contests, and there will be food vendors and other diversions. The culmination of the day will include the award of the coveted winners trophy- which will guarantee on the crews bragging rights for the next year, and awards will be granted for best maritime pet, best sailor tattoo, and other achievements.


At about noon, the tugs tie up to Pier 84 while judges tally the races results and choose the best-looking tug, best vintage tug, best-dressed crew, best crew tattoo and best mascot. The public is invited to get into the action on the pier in spinach-eating and line-tossing contests for both kids and adults. The awards ceremony begins at 1 p.m.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The best way to participate is clearly onboard the spectator boat- ticketing and departure details are listed below. I’ll be there, how about you?


Circle Line Manhattan will depart at 9:30 from Circle Line’s Pier 83 at 43rd Street and 12th Avenue (boarding will begin at 9 a.m.), and it will return at 11:30 a.m., so that passengers can walk just one block to the events on Pier 84. Tickets are $30 adults/$25 children. Free for ages 4 and under. Tickets can be purchased in advance online at or by calling 212-757-1600.

Admission to the Pier 84 events is free.

The race is organized by the Working Harbor Committee, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to spreading the word about the rich history, current vitality and future potential of the New York/New Jersey Harbor. The organization also provides Hidden Harbor Tours® and runs an extensive youth educational program. Full information is available at Thanks to co-sponsor Friends of Hudson River Park and major supporters Circle Line and the NYC Economic Development Corp.

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