Posted by: towmasters | January 23, 2009

Maritime Art & History

Capturing the grit and essence of seafarers in action, whether in words, photographs, sketches, paintings or some other medium, is a goal more often attempted than achieved. What follows is a partial list of some worthy attempts that have succeeded.

Under Tow: A History Of Tugs And Towing , by Donal Baird, is the best general historic and photographic overview available.

George Matteson’s Tugboats of New York belongs on every tugboater’s bookshelf, no matter where you work. ‘Nuff said. Amazon has it here.

For those in the PNW, the soon-to-be-published Tugboats on Puget Sound is your book. Buy it here.

Tugboats of the Great Lakes, by Franz Von Reidel, may satisfy the sweet water sailors among us.

For those who want to see and read the “real” story of how Manhattan’s Financial District was evacuated largely by water on 9/11, you need go no further than All Available Boats.

Want to see how the European’s fish? Jean Gaumy’s Men at sea is the definitive b+w photographic documentary. Get it from Amazon here.

Former deep-sea merchant mariner Marek Sarba is one of us, and is also a wonderful painter who captures the seafaring experience in a very visceral way. Good oil paintings are never considered to be inexpensive by blue-collar workers like us, but his limited-edition art prints of those paintings are quite affordable and look great, so check out his portfolio.

John Stobart’s amazing maritime heritage prints and books will transport you back to the bygone eras of sail and steam. The prints will set you back a considerable chunk of money but the coffee-table books are a good value and are simply beautiful.

Brooklyn-based photographer Carolina Salguero captures New York Harbor and the tugs that ply it like no one else. Once you enter the site click tugs in the waterfront section and maritime 9/11 in the wtc section. There are some additional images here. She’s also a fierce advocate and activist for maintaining a working-waterfront and furthering local maritime heritage and education via PortSide NY.

Last, but not least, is fellow tugboater Captain Jan Tiura. Her lens has been trained on the ships and tugs of San Francisco Bay for many years and you can see some of her work here.



  1. I’m so interested to see the growth of this site.

    Thanks for the compliments on my work advocating for the working waterfront and photographing tugs. I do miss the latter. I’m not photographing as much since becoming responsible for the MARY WHALEN; you know how boat maintenance calls… Tug crews are welcome to come alongside the MARY WHALEN to visit, please give a call first if you can. We’d love engineer advice! Contact into at How do I contact folks behind this website? Thanks for your good work!
    Carolina Salguero

  2. An interesting list, both for what it includes (books that are not yet out and books about fishing) and what it excludes (see below). The main problem for me is that it’s not clear what criteria were used in the selection aside from “capturing the grit and essence.”

    As a regular reviewer of books about
    tugboating, I have spent much effort in delving into what makes a book a good book. My connclusion is that I prefer to think that the essence of tugboating con be conveyed in worlds better than by illustrations. Tugs are machines, it’s what people do with them and inside them that makes up most of tugboating.

    As for the choices listed, the first half of Baird’s book does contain unusual material on the international tugboating scene but much of it is material that should have appeared in some other form; in “Under Tow, this wonderful information is really lost in what is basically a history book about Canadian tugs. Franz’s book (and the next few books to come), wonderful though it is, is merely a photo album. Ditto, I suspect, for the upcoming Puget Sound book.”Tugboats of New York” is a truly great examination of the port’s tugboating but does it capture the grit, the essence of tugboating? The sweat of hard work, hot summer days and, sometimes, fear? George is a poet but sweat does appear in his book very often.

    I have thought deeply about a tugboat book list in response to the hypothetical question as to what tug books to acquire. Before answering, my first task would be to create categories such as history,” first-person” (whether from a diary, interviews, or memory), technical, local/regional/national/international, and other equivalent sort bins.

    Categories selected, I’d next pick candidate books in each category and then rank them. (It ‘s be a big job!)

    My list would inckude any of MJ “Jack” Gaston’s books describing tugboating worldwide from the equipment and operational aspects (a fourth book coming out soon, I’m told), Spectre and Lang’s classic “On the Hawser”, Robinson’s “Woman in the Wheelhouse” and Emmy Lambert’s two books “Tugging on the Heart Strings”, the Pacific Northwest’s “Skookum Tugs (a superb book!), several regional and local histories, and, on the technical side, Capt Blank’s “Modern Towing, Capt Reids’s several books, Capt Henk Henson’s “Tug Use in Port” (a book little-known on this side of the Atlantic but it should more-widely read), and Capt Viv Schisler’s several thoughtful pamphlets. And so on and on.

    Enough for now. The list given in the blog was a nice first-try but please go back to rethinking the selections.

    regards, Hugh Ware

  3. […] here to read the rest: Maritime Art & History « Towmasters: the Master of Towing Vessels … […]

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