Magazine Article


My First Internet Story...

But how do you find all the old tugs in the first place? In 1992, I might have spent days or months tracking them down—an expenditure of labor that would not have been justified by my humble author's fee, so the story wouldn't have been done in the first place. In 2002, I can enter the keyword "tugboat" in Google, and get 84,900 references in a tenth of a second. Reviewers like to open reviews with complaints, and here's mine. There's more information on the Internet than anyone can handle.
By refining my search, I found the tug Luna in Boston, tug Jupiter in Philadelphia, tug Baltimore in Baltimore. They were the subjects I was looking for. I found a lot of other things, too. I found, for example, the website of the National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors. This is established for crew members of ATFs, the U.S. Navy's ocean-going salvage tugs. The NAFTS site linked to Fred's Place, a site for ex-Coastguardsmen. That linked to Haze Gray & Underway, a naval history site with its own library of thousands of photos. That linked to sites for individual ships, also festooned with photos.
And that led to a site for a salvage tug that went on to become a Coast Guard cutter, and the hero of "The Perfect Storm." In the movie, she's mentioned by name—Tamaroa—as she rescues sailboaters and the crew of a ditched helicopter. And now, decommissioned, she was in danger of sinking.
It was the Tam's picture on the website that sold me. Her lines are right handsome. Brawny like a tug should be, graceful like the prototypical cutter. A nice piece of sculpture. We should stop her from sinking, if we can.
By e-mail, my editor agreed to a special story on rescuing the Tamaroa.
So there I was, involved with a restoration project for something I hadn't known about, on a subject I'd never considered or, for that matter, even heard of. Fleet tug sailors?

... It's Another.
They say that the gent who towed the Tam to Baltimore never got the permits required for the job. They say that an anonymous benefactor from the Far East purchased the Tam, and signed her over to the newly formed Tamaroa Maritime Foundation. They say a lot of things about this tough old ship. They say she once sank in her own drydock in Brooklyn. Was once chained to her pier on Staten Island. Was first at the sinking of the Andrea Doria. Was a hero at Iwo Jima. It's all on the Internet.
I drove to Baltimore three times, to interview the restorers. Mostly old Coasties, a few preservationists and old-ship nuts. That was the part of the story that didn't involve the Internet. Except to the extent that the volunteers learned about the project by e-mail.
The gent who heads-up the work projects, Chief Jaeger, uses e-mail to alert his work crew of upcoming events. The gent who heads-up the Tamaroa's website, Mr. Obolensky, uses an Olympus E-10 for photos of the crew's progress. Want to see digital photography in action? Go to
Tamaroa's site also presents scans of her beached at Iwo Jima, in the WWII battle. There are pictures of her lashed like a pontoon to the Cruiser Reno, the latter sinking from torpedos, on a 500-mile trek through unfriendly waters. Mr. Obolensky has done a good job of displaying the ship's rugged heroics.
Meanwhile, it's the Coast Guard's own site that shows her in the "halloween storm" of '91. The photo is in the public domain—anyone can download a hero ship in action.
The ship was one of 70 sisters built for WWII. Six altogether went to the Coast Guard. Others went to foreign navies. A lead on the Internet produced a correspondent from Argentina, whose navy received four of the sisters. Nearly identical to Tamaroa itself, these ships tell more about the success of the design. So do the photos of the sisters in the navies of Turkey, Italy, Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia, all of which are easily found on the Internet. The gent in Argentina zipped-up a half-dozen photos of the Tam's near-twin as she appears in today's ARA (Argentine Navy) colors, and sent 'em to me for the article.

How Obscure Are Tugboat Sailors from Argentina?
A column in Photo Trade News might be expected to exclaim, "gee, if I sent publication-quality photographs (about 3000x2000 pixels, 300 dpi) across the Internet successfully using a 56k modem, imagine what a Soccer Mom can do with her screen-resolution VGAs on DSL!" That could make quite a story.
But I think there's a bigger story lurking around here.
If you think about it, tugs are what you'd call an obscure subject. Navy salvage tugs are even more obscure, and tug sailors more obscure yet. And how obscure are tug sailors from Argentina?
Besides fleet tug sailors, maybe we can expect to find marine historians and preservationists among our lists of obscure demographics. Besides historians and preservationists, how about ship brokers or modern towing companies? Besides all of them, how about the scale modelers and RCers? They're all voracious photographers. They take their own photos. They scan other peoples' photos. They trade 'em back and forth. They post 'em on their websites—take a look, you've never seen so many ships. Can you say "targeted markets?"