If you grew up in the Pacific Northwest, especially along the coast, you saw lots of tugboats, doing all sorts of work. People from other parts of the country have probably seen tugboats as well but mostly plying the harbors and bays, helping ships in and out of port. Big boats and looking all business, harbor tugs are everywhere there is commercial shipping. Take a harbor tour of New York Harbor and you’ll see dozens.
But in the Pacific Northwest, their role is a lot more varied than simply assisting ships enter and depart port. On a schedule that seems nonstop, tugs are out there day and night, no matter the weather, year round, heading north and south pulling barges of construction equipment, building materials, gravel, and logs.
Imagine the sight of a 90-foot tug pulling a log boom of timber logs headed to mills in British Columbia. The raft can measure 1,250 feet long by 280 feet wide, all towed by a single screw tug with a 1,000hp diesel engine. Any kid seeing such a sight, would no doubt have a lasting impression of the strength and power of the venerable tugboat.
So it should not be a surprise that the general popularity of the tugboat has its roots in the Pacific Northwest. While a real tug is not exactly a good candidate for a cruising boat conversion, it has been done. More in line with reality, however, the tug look did give rise to several tug-like cruising boats in the 1980s. Of course, there is Nordic Tugs, but there were also a couple of cruising boats from Taiwan during the same period that have more than a passing resemblance to a tugboat. The Sundowner line was offered in models in 30 feet, 32 feet, and 36 feet. Not many were built, but they are still out there for anyone interested. The Lord Nelson Victory Tug was another such cruising boat, designed by Jim Backus. It was offered in versions of 37 feet, 41 feet, and 49 feet.
The general lines of these boats include a high bow, pilothouse with vertical windows, a nice sheer and open cockpit. With just the right look, they hint at the sturdy, powerful, and highly reliable character of working tugboats.
A few year later came the American Tug, built only a few miles away from the Nordic Tugs facilities in Burlington, Washington.
These tug yachts showcase functionality over the sleek lines of other powerboats. They are all business and ready to go to work. Of course, they have beautiful, modern interiors, a far cry from the industrial and minimalist interior of a working tug, which is mostly engine room.
Northwest designers who have also contributed to the tug yacht scene include naval architect Michael Kasten, yacht designer Jay Bedford, and boat designer and builder, Sam Devlin. Each has created smart-looking cruising boats with more than a touch of tug in their lines.
Ranger Tugs is another company building a line of smaller cruising boats that fit the needs and cruising plans of many people. And the fact that they are trailerable extends the cruising range to just about anywhere in North America.
Tugboat-inspired cruising boats remain popular for many reasons. They are seaworthy, handle well, and appear to carry on the working tug tradition of strength and power, and a bit of nostalgia. Reminiscent of growing up along the coast and the wonder of seeing a log boom go slowly by, a single tug doing its thing, dwarfed by nearly 20 acres of logs.
Is it any coincidence that the favorite book of so many young children was that classic, Little Toot?
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