Visiting tugboats set to race today

Captain Jim Bennett of Port Orchard is surrounded by flags Saturday as he sets up his tug, Thea Belle, during Harbor Days at the Port Plaza in Olympia.
Captain Jim Bennett of Port Orchard is surrounded by flags Saturday as he sets up his tug, Thea Belle, during Harbor Days at the Port Plaza in Olympia. The Olympian

OLYMPIA - Thousands converged on the Port of Olympia's public plaza Saturday for the 37th annual Olympia Harbor Days, the second consecutive week that the plaza has hosted a community event and brought people closer to the city's waterfront.

This time, they came to see tugboats rather than Sand in the City sand castles. About 10 tugs were moored at the single dock in front of the plaza, and a steady stream of people walked the dock and boarded the tugs for quick tours and history lessons. This year, the tugs moved to the plaza because of construction at Percival Landing.

One of those tugs was a 1942 Foss tug named Joe. Owners Robin and Kae Paterson were busy answering questions and meeting guests, and Kae was decked out in a Harbor Days sweatshirt with Joe as the featured tug on the sweatshirt and in marketing materials for this year’s Olympia Harbor Days.

Joe arrived Thursday at the public plaza; it will race today, then return to Gig Harbor on Monday, Robin said.

The Patersons are longtime tug owners and longtime participants in Harbor Days; they said they have attended every year since 1975. Over the years, the tug has won the race three times in its class and finished fifth in its class last year, Robin said.

“It can do something over 8 knots on a good day in calm water,” he said about Joe’s top speed. Kae added, “Someone once compared it to racing bulldozers with the blade down.”

Joe measures 45 feet and has a galley with a diesel stove, a head, a large closet and two large sleeping berths, Robin said. The boat also has a dual commercial and pleasure craft license, Kae said.

Also on board with the Patersons were former tug owners Jon and Pat Kent of Santa Barbara, Calif. They used to own Teal, a 1949 Alaska Packers tug they moored in Tacoma and owned for 14 years before selling it last year to a new owner who has it moored in Poulsbo. The Kents will be aboard Joe for today’s race but acknowledged that it was hard coming back this year, saying it “felt terrible” and there was an “emptiness” not to have Teal with them this year.

“It was part of the family,” said Pat.

Before the Kents bought Teal, it had worked in Alaska for years and holds a record for towing 132 sections of logs for a boat its size, Jon said.

They bought the boat because it was comfortable, had a wonderful sense of history and performed well in bad weather – tackling heavy seas in a steady up-and-down motion, rather than being pushed around like a smaller boat would, he said. They finally sold the boat last year because of the 1,200 miles that separated Santa Barbara from Tacoma.

“It was not a practical partnership,” Jon said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/bizblog