The Newtown Pentacle

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USCG Katherine Walker on the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor found a humble narrator onboard a novel hybrid ferry boat, on the East River, while the United Nations was in session a couple of weeks back. The boat I was on was running under electric power, which is a game changer as far as noise and vibration, but since I was onboard the thing I didn’t get any shots of it. What I did get, however, were shots of a relatively new (by Coast Guard standard) bit of our National kit. Launched in 1996, that’s the USCGC Katherine Walker (WLM-552).

A Keeper Class Buoy Tender, the boat is 118 feet long, powered by two CAT 3508 TA Diesel engines, and its propulsion is provided by Ulstein/Rolls Royce 360 degree steerable Z-Drives plus a 600 HP Electric Bow Thruster. Her homeport is Bayonne New Jersey. The vessel is named for a former and quite heroic keeper of the Robbins Reef lighthouse, which is found at the intersection of the Hudson River and Staten Island’s Kill Van Kull (Constables Hook), Katherine Walker.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“The Keeper of the Robbins Reef Light” carries a crew of 24 and sports a crane which is rated to ten tons. She can do light icebreaking duty, but after encountering any pack ice over 35mm thick, they call in a purpose built icebreaker. Coast Guard ship hull colors indicate their missions – Black hull – aids to navigation, White hull – maritime law enforcement and other safety-at-sea missions, Red hull – icebreaking. All vessels under 65 feet in length are classified as “boats” and operate near shore and inland waterways, and are usually painted “Coast Guard Orange.”

Using one rubric (which is fairly colloquial and elastic) to decide “what’s a ship and what’s a boat,” the USCG classifies the Walker as a ship due to being over 65 feet and because of that crane, it can indeed launch a boat. On the Harbor, the saying goes “the difference between a ship and a boat is that a ship can launch a boat, but a boat can’t launch a ship.” If the Coast Guard – a well armed branch of the United States military – tells you that something is a ship, however, you’d be foolish to argue with them. Only idiots argue with people armed with high caliber weaponry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the United Nations summit in Manhattan, there were Coast Guard ships on duty in the East River and just off the southern shoreline of Roosevelt Island all week. Earlier in the week I had spotted the CGC 108 Thunder Bay in this spot for instance. I have to imagine they were participating in Homeland Security duties for the UN events, but that’s strictly a presumption on my part. Can’t imagine they were fishing.

Katherine Walker, whom the boat is named for, was a keeper of the Robbins Reef light, as mentioned. Mrs. Walker was the light keeper for thirty years, following the death of her husband, and raised her family on the tiny spit of land which hosts the light. Check out this wikipedia page for more on her biography and heroic story. Apparently, a statue of her will be erected on the coastline of Staten Island nearby the St. George landing of the Staten Island Ferry in the near future.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 8, 2019 at 11:00 am

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