The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Erie Basin’ Category

constantly persuading

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking this last week of summer off from narrating humbly, so single shots from past adventures are on offer. I’m out and about all week, if my plans work out, and will be back with fresh views of a City that doth not sleep after Labor Day.

Erie Basin adjoins the Gowanus Canal and the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook. That’s where I was, quite obviously near sunset, one summer evening a few years ago.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, August 31st. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates here, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.

“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

September 3, 2020 at 11:00 am

Posted in Brooklyn, Erie Basin

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never cease

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Out on the water with the Working Harbor Committee, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Working Harbor Committee excursion was billed as presenting “Brooklyn waterfront, past and present” and I was on the microphone for a good stretch of the trip. I was sharing the narration duty with my pal, Capt. Margaret Flanagan of the Waterfont Alliance organization, who I told point blank before the trip started that once the boat got past Red Hook “I got nothing.” Not a problem for Capt. Flanagan at all, as her able narration and vast knowledge of all things NY Harbor allowed me to slip away from the proverbial pulpit and shoot a few photos.

One bad thing about being one of the tour leaders for these excursions is that it has really cut into the amount of time I have to shoot, and since I’m Working Harbor’s official photographer – this has created a shortage of photos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A full harvest moon rose while we were out, and the shot above was captured while our vessel – a NY Waterways ferry – was plying the rippling surface of Gowanus Bay in South Brooklyn. As is often opined, the best times of year in NYC for photography are in the late spring and early fall, when the angle of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself in relation to the City is quite efficacious. Obviously, these shots were captured at sunset and dusk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has a tremendous desire to just get out on a boat and shoot for hours and hours during these intervals, and record the glorious parade of maritime industrial splendor out on the sixth borough. I took the East River Ferry to Manhattan’s Pier 11 from LIC to meet the Working Harbor chartered vessel in the City, but since the ER Ferry service concludes its schedule in the early evening, one was forced to enter the sweating concrete bunkers of the Subway system to get back to almond eyed Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At 59th street, one encountered this fellow, who seemed intent on blowing his own horn.

Upcoming tours and events:

“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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.

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:

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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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