Tug makes wintry 3,000-mile trek from N.Y. to Muskegon

Justine McGuire
Muskegon Chronicle
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Muskegon — Two tug boats recently took up residence at Mart Dock in Muskegon. Their arrival marked the end of a blustery cold 21-day, 3,000-mile journey from Staten Island, New York.

Up to 20-foot-tall Atlantic Ocean waves, an ongoing battle with seasickness and a snapped towing cable while traversing Lake Michigan helped create a memorable, yet sometimes scary, trip.

The long-awaited arrival was finally celebrated by the crew with whiskey at Mart Dock.

The addition of the twin Katie G. McAllister (1966) and Colleen McAllister (1968) tugs brings Port City Marine Services’ fleet total to four, said Capt. Ed Hogan, vice president of the company, who led the journey from New York.

Hogan was on the lookout for another tug for an upcoming customer project, and was talked into buying the pair.

After making sure both tugs were seaworthy, the crew loaded them up with what they hoped was enough food and fuel for the entire trip — but it didn’t work out that way. They had to make stops for both.

“We ate a lot more frozen pizzas and a lot less nice dinners,” Hogan said. “It was hard to cook.”

They set sail on Dec. 4, leaving the New York harbor during short-sleeve weather, but the conditions “just did nothing but get worse” during the journey.

Eight people were on board the Katie G. as it towed the Colleen. Paul Brown served as co-captain, and Hogan’s wife June Hogan cooked for the crew.

For most of the trip in open water, the Colleen was dragged behind the Katie G. by a 2.25-inch-thick metal cable.

The tugs and crew traversed up the East River between Manhattan and Long Island, through Long Island Sound, up to Cape Cod Canal, which they cut through to arrive in Massachusetts Bay. From there, they traveled northeast to Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Then they entered the St. Lawrence River, and began traveling southwest through Quebec City and then Montreal until they reached Lake Ontario.

The Welland Canal connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, allowing ships to avoid Niagara Falls. The tugs then went through Lake Erie to the Detroit River, then across Lake St. Clair and up the St. Clair River, which connect lakes Erie and Huron. Next they traveled north through Lake Huron, around the tip of Michigan’s “mitten,” and finally south on Lake Michigan to Muskegon Lake.

A canal in Nova Scotia would have helped keep the tugs sheltered from the open ocean before entering the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but it was closed for maintenance.

“It exposed us to a lot of cold weather,” Ed Hogan said. “We had close to three days of 40-50 mile per hour winds, 15-20 foot seas and snow. We didn’t make much time.”

The captain’s log shows temperatures dipped to minus-22 degrees at one point during the trip.

“The spray would come up and freeze on the boat,” Ed Hogan said. “It makes it absolutely miserable.”

The conditions made it difficult for crew members to stay on their feet, he said. It was tiring, but hard to sleep. Some of the crew got seasick.

But for the most part, the crew had “all the comforts of home,” Ed Hogan said. The tug is equipped to sleep 15, and there were only eight people on board, which meant plenty of living space. They had satellite TV, many home cooked meals and heat inside.

“It probably would be strange for someone who never did this,” he said. “But these guys are all career sailors.”

Even so, some tasks are more difficult than others.

“I took a nose dive,” Ed Hogan said. “I was trying to get dressed. You’re pretty lonely when you’re lying there on the deck with your pants around your ankles. I just caught a wave wrong, and went flying across the room. That kind of thing happens.”

The tugs encountered a “full-blown winter storm,” while in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They endured a gale on Lake Ontario that covered the entire Katie G. in ice.

Luckily, considering the bad weather and tired crew, the Katie G. ran well, Ed Hogan said.

On Christmas Eve, when the three-week trip was almost at an end — the tugs were about 90 miles from Muskegon — the 2.25-inch cable towing the Colleen snapped.

“We’re out there in the dark with the waves rolling over us trying to bolt this cable together,” Ed Hogan said.

They were successful, and turned back around to reconnect with the Colleen.

Even the arrival at Mart Dock before daybreak on Christmas presented challenges. There was a barge docked in the way that had to be broken out of the ice and moved. But it still wasn’t over.

“We had to wash all the ice out because these ice cubes as big as Volkswagens get stuck between the boat and the dock,” Ed Hogan said.

When all the work was finally finished, the crew raised their glasses (full whiskey and cola) together.

“We just had a beer and went to bed,” Ed Hogan said about arriving home. “We got up later and put in a Stouffer’s frozen lasagna.”

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