Gentlemen of the Harbor: Stories of Chesapeake Bay Tugboats and Crews
I’ve spent my life on the Chesapeake Bay, working in recreational and commercial fishing industries. Yet I never gave much thought to tugboats, their captains and crews in the Baltimore Harbor. That changed last winter. Editing Captain Bill Eggert’s new book — Gentlemen of the Harbor: Stories of Chesapeake Bay Tugboats and Crews — I became fascinated by the tugboat industry on the Bay, its history, people and contributions to Maryland’s economy and commerce.
Eggert explains through stories and photos how the industry works in tandem with foreign and U.S. barges and Bay pilots. Bay pilots take over the helm of foreign vessels to get them up the main stem of the Chesapeake. When they near the Key Bridge, a tugboat captain takes the helm from the pilot, and his first mate takes over the tug to maneuver the ship into dock space.
Tugboating on the Chesapeake began in Baltimore in 1812. Luke League found that he could assist sailing vessels getting into Baltimore’s ports during foul weather. He eventually bought or built seven tugboats, and when he retired his two sons took over the business. In the first half of the 20th century, The Curtis Bay Company tugboat fleet was the largest in the Mid-Atlantic, with 25 boats and 24-hour service between Baltimore, Philadelphia and Hampton Roads.
You’ll learn of life on the tugboats and meet captains with stories of breaking ice, serving the war effort, moving coal and more. You’ll meet, for example, Baltimore’s Justine Brown, who handled dispatch calls to the tugs via land telephone before ship-to-shore radios. In 1943 the Justine was christened in her honor. Brown retired in 1966 after 53 years with the Curtis Bay Company.
In 20 years working in the Baltimore Harbor, running charter boats and water taxis, Eggert studied tugboats. He now captains his own.
“Tugboats evoke an emotional response,” Eggert writes in the book’s foreword, and the rest of the 80-page book does just that through its powerful and sharp black-and-white photos and well-researched historical vignettes.