Historic tug Sand Man needs a hand

Funds to maintain ‘Olympia’s boat’ running very low

Staff writerMarch 2, 2014 

The Sand Man needs a little love from the community.

Launched in 1910, the tugboat has been a fixture in Budd Inlet for 103 years.

Today, the Sand Man is a floating museum of maritime history that’s short on cash, said Olympia resident Bob Powell. He bought the 60-foot tugboat in 1987 and eventually started the nonprofit Sand Man Foundation to oversee restoration of the vintage vessel.

Since September 2005, the tugboat has been moored at Percival Landing in an agreement with the city and is open to the public for free. The foundation reports that nearly 63,000 visitors — representing all 50 states and 69 countries — have signed the tugboat’s guest book.

The foundation has always lived hand-to-mouth, but some key donations dried up recently, Powell said. About half of the foundation’s $14,000 budget goes toward liability insurance.

“We’ve lost some sources of annual funding, so that just puts a crimp in everything,” Powell said. “We need to find a way to make that up.”

Constant maintenance is required for the boat’s deteriorating wood and aging parts. Beneath the deck, longtime volunteer Paul Deranleau tinkered with a leak in the engine Saturday morning. The engine was built in 1944, and the boat must stay within the standards of that time period to qualify for the National Register of Historic Vessels.

“A wooden boat costs about $100 a foot a year, just for maintenance,” Deranleau said.

The Sand Man Foundation consists of about 20 volunteers, nine of whom serve on a board of directors. Many volunteers work as docents who guide visitors on the weekends. The Sand Man is also a fixture at Puget Sound maritime events including Harbor Days and the Olympia Wooden Boat Festival.

The foundation plans to get the tugboat more involved in community programs. One idea is to organize a beach cleanup, possibly this fall.

Powell said the Sand Man is “Olympia’s boat.” Despite the shortage of money for maintenance, he said, the tugboat’s caretakers will find a way to keep it afloat.

“I hope it will last another 100 years,” he said, with a hand on the wooden steering wheel. “There’s no reason why it couldn’t.”


To learn more about the Sand Man, visit tugsandman.org or email Bob Powell at tugnutz@gmail.com.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

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