Police boat returns to duty

The storied history of Launch No. 5 floats in a circle of life, death and rebirth, the players so intertwined in family and work that there would seem to be one degree of separation, not six.

Launch No. 5 approaches the Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River north of Ossining, N.Y.
   Image Credit: Brian Gauvin

Designed by the renowned Philip Rhodes and built at the Matton Shipyard in Cohoes, N.Y., in 1966, Launch No. 5 is a 52-foot steel-hull twin-screw diesel vessel that served in the New York Police Department Harbor Unit for 30 years. It was named Patrolman Henry A. Walburger, after an officer who was downed by gunfire while defending a family from an intruder.

After the boat was retired, it was sold to private interests.

Image Credit: Brian Gauvin

Crewmembers Cliff Forrest, Philip Porteus and Greg Porteus. All are qualified Coast Guard Auxiliary coxswains.

Later the boat was stripped and left to sink in the Passaic River in New Jersey.

In 1998, retired N.Y. State Trooper Greg Porteus had a dream of converting a workboat to a pleasure craft. His cousin, Philip Porteus, retired from the U.S. Coast Guard and working in the New York Fire Department, got a tip on the launch’s location from a Coast Guard buddy. When the pair found the boat, they could see the starboard running lights reaching up to the surface like the beckoning hand of a drowning man. The discovery marked the beginning of a four-year rebirthing process.

A restored MV Patrolman Henry A. Walburger was ready for service on July 4, 2002.

The restoration of the launch was extensive. Greg’s family and friends, within and without New York’s police and fire departments, along with volunteers from the Coast Guard in the area, formed the nucleus of the volunteer effort. The late Hope Becker, an admirer of Philip Rhodes designs, also rallied to the call, keeping the troops true to the Rhodes tradition.

Image Credit: Brian Gauvin

Cliff Forrest, a retired Marine Corps sergeant, with the two Caterpillar 3126 engines donated by the engine maker.

Sgt. Mike Murphy, a retired mechanic from the NYPD Harbor Unit launch repair shop, was vital to the repowering effort. Bill Smith, an investment banker whose father, Howard, worked with Greg’s father, Gerald, in the Harbor Unit, is now the official photographer and Web master.

Phil’s father, Phil Sr., is also retired from the NYFD. Both Phil Sr. and Gerald have been Launch No. 5 boosters from the inception. Patrolman Walburger’s son, retired Det. Henry Walburger, is an aspiring crewmember who is studying to join the rest of the volunteer crew, all qualified Coast Guard Auxiliary coxswains.

Image Credit: Brian Gauvin

Cliff Forrest chats with Greg Porteus in the pilothouse. Greg is a former New York state trooper.

Donations of equipment and time also flooded in from Caterpillar, Raymarine, Echo Bay Marine Services, Zodiac, Icom and Standard Horizon. The Coast Guard supplies the fuel.

Launch No. 5 is based in Ossining, N.Y., on the east bank of the Hudson River about 30 miles north of New York City. The boat has been very busy since being pressed back into service saving lives, leading river cleanups, hosting educational sessions and providing tours for orphans, Scouts and other children’s groups. Accounts of the boat’s exploits, achievements and citations are on the website — www.launch5.com.

Greg doesn’t seem to mind that Launch No. 5 has become much more a workboat than a pleasure boat. He is reaping more pleasure from the people the restored vessel has drawn and the deeds it has accomplished.

By Professional Mariner Staff