‘Tugboats Illustrated’ offers definitive look at workhorses of the water

Tug Review

Tugboats Illustrated — History, Technology, Seamanship by Paul Farrell
Copyright 2016 
W.W. Norton & Company Inc., New York, N.Y. 
ISBN: 978-0-393-06931-0 

A lifetime love of tugs, their design, their work and, yes, their beauty, shows through on every page of Paul Farrell’s recently published book, Tugboats Illustrated — History, Technology, Seamanship. It is all of that and more.

Farrell’s book captures that elusive character of tugs that so many, who have spent lifetimes working on them, have so often been unable to explain — the magic that kept drawing them back even after retiring to a life ashore. 

Although not himself a mariner, Farrell’s training and career as an architect shows through in the richly detailed illustrations. A drawing by the author titled “Steam Towboat, Late 19th Century” includes 15 descriptions of details including the use to two barges tied alongside to serve the function of push knees on modern steel towboats. A cutaway drawing of a steam tug includes the origin of the term “boot-heel pilothouse to allow a view astern.”

The book takes the reader through the history and the contemporary diversity of the towing industry. The 13 chapters include Tug Screws and Rudders, Tractor Tugs, Modern Tug Design and Construction, Coastal and Ocean Towing, and Rescue and Salvage.

At 148 generously sized pages, with detailed text and nearly countless photographs and drawings, this book is a monumental task. One page of drawings shows the varieties of tug hull chines, from soft to hard and from single to double chine. Barge handling from the horse-drawn barges of the Erie Canal to fleeting a big tow around a bend on the Mississippi are given full-page detailed illustrations.

For mariners simply wanting to reflect on their worlds, or those wanting to explain their work to families and friends, this will be an essential addition to their nautical library. For those non-mariners who stand on the shore in Boston, Charleston, New Orleans, San Francisco or any of America’s harbors, Farrell’s book will contribute much to their pleasure and understanding through detailed text and photos of the jobs, from ship handling or construction, that they are watching.

A great many details are not apparent to the observer of tugs. The book’s many cut-away drawings show engine room and accommodation interiors. Detailed drawings explain a wide range of propulsion systems from cycloidal to z-drive and ducted propellers.

Where North American tugs are not the best representatives of a class of tug, the author has illustrated European vessels. Many of the details of towing configurations are specific to a region (i.e. East Coast or West Coast). A professional mariner may find details that are “not the way we do it,” but that is the nature of the complexity of the marine world with shifts over time and place.

No one, shoreside observer or onboard mariner, will be able to put this book aside once they have delved into the drawings, photos and text that make this the most comprehensive tug book that this reviewer has ever seen.

By Professional Mariner Staff