ASNE High School Journalism Institute at Hampton University
Issue Date: 6/24/2003
Issue: The Bridge
Last Update: 6/30/2003
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March 4, 2004
By Merna Putman Hall
In the shadow of the Nauticus National Maritime Center in Norfolk and dwarfed by the Battleship Wisconsin, floats another vessel that served its country in a way that many would overlook. The Tugboat Huntington, retired after 63 years of service, was turned into a museum in 1999.
The Huntington was built in 1933 at the Newport News shipyard to replace the Tugboat Ideal by men apprenticing in the shipbuilding trade. She is a small vessel, compared to the vessels she towed; only 190 feet long and 29 feet wide,weighing a mere 271 tons. Yet, the Huntington was mighty in her day, capable of moving other vessels almost twice her weight and six times her length.
The little tugboat was “a real showboat” in her time, according to a guide at the museum. The tugboat had brass port lights, door knobs and fire monitors. She was scrubbed daily, but she was not just built for a showpiece.
Between 1933 and 1996 the Huntington moved every aircraft carrier and every submarine built by the Newport News shipyard, including the U.S.S. Enterprise which was the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier and the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy. She towed Trident Ballistic submarines and luxury liners, including the Rotterdam that was the largest passenger liner ever built in the Netherlands. It was also one of the most successful.
The Huntington also was used to tow the largest ship ever repaired in the Newport News Shipyard: the MS Kirsten Maersk, which was 1,215 feet long and 185 feet wide.
But the Huntington’s job did not end with towing ships since she was also equipped to fight fires and was capable of pumping 12,000 gallons of water per minute. Another one of her jobs included being a star in the 360-degree movie theatre in Disneyland.
At her retirement, the Huntington had docked and undocked approximately 30,000 ships over her 63-year career as a working tugboat.
“I can’t believe all the things that this tugboat has gotten to do during her life,” said Betsy Sergeant, ASNE fellow, after hearing the history of the Huntington.
The Huntington was built by apprentices at Newport News Shipbuilding, the largest privately owned shipyard in the United States. It was named in honor of Collis P. Huntington, the shipyard’s founder and railroad magnet. Huntington wanted a more reliable way to repair and service the ships bringing coal to his railroad line, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroads.
Originally the tug ran on coal-fired steam. In 1952 the tug was turned into a diesel-powered craft. She carried 12,000 gallons of fuel and burned 20 gallons an hour and was capable of going 10-11 knots. The Huntington typically had a five-man crew. Four of the men slept in two crew quarters and the captain’s quarters were in the wheelhouse.
The Huntington was purchased by Captain Book Smith from the Bay Towing Company in 1996 and was retired at age 63 simply because she did not have the power to tow the bigger, more modern ships.
The little tugboat is registered on the National Register of Historic
Places, and now the Huntington and the history she can tell proudly awaits
the visitors coming to her deck at the Nauticus National Maritime Museum
in Norfolk, VA.