Spanky Paine gets another chance to sail the seas

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

SEWARD (AP) -- For the first time in five years, saltwater again is lapping against the 107-year-old hull of the Spanky Paine.

The tugboat got a reprieve from years in drydock this month after another tug met an untimely fate and it was reintroduced to service at Resurrection Bay.

Dan Lowry of Seward and partner Ken Bozinoff of King Salmon originally had planned to work the tug Mercury in a proposed oil-drilling operation at Katalla, southeast of Cordova. But when the Mercury sank Sept. 5 in Bristol Bay, Lowry scrambled for a replacement.

The owner of Dalo Marine didn't have to go far. He remembered the tug with a curious name sitting in drydock at Seward Marine Industrial Center.

When contacted, Fred Paine Sr. of Superior, Wis., was willing to sell the vessel he had bought 11 years earlier on the Great Lakes.

''It needs to be used,'' said Paine, who has stayed put in the Dutch Harbor area where he's doing remediation work at former military sites.

Paine has mixed feelings about selling the tug named after his youngest son. The 11-year-old boy came to Seward last month from Superior just to see his namesake before it was sold. The buyers promised not to change the name.

When Paine bought the vessel in January of 1990, he was desperate to find a tug for his two government work contracts in Alaska.

''It was after the oil spill and I couldn't get a boat anywhere in Alaska,'' he said.

He remembered the big iron tugboat with a green and black wheelhouse stuck in three feet of ice on the shore of Lake Superior near Duluth, Minn. Weighing a stout 240 tons and measuring 94.5 feet in length, he though she would be just the workhorse.

Once Bob Billington agreed to part with the tug, Paine hired a crew of four to sail it down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, through the Panama Canal and up to Alaska.

There were a few delays in the 65-day voyage.

The crew cut the top off the pilothouse to fit under the Illinois River bridges in Chicago and there was a two-day respite in Mazatlan, Mexico, while the skipper cooled his heels in jail and Paine worked the phones to the U.S. embassy.

When the Spanky Paine reached California, half of the crew called it quits. So with just a skipper and an engineer, the tug continued northward at a 13-knot clip until it landed in Homer.

A decade later, father and son are still in Dutch Harbor.

''We used Spanky Paine to get us here,'' Paine said. ''We kept hoping to use her again, but we just haven't had any of those long expeditions in years.''

He was tickled to learn the hull got new zincs and a coat of red paint to match the wheelhouse.

It's all part of the 107-year history of the steam-powered tugboat that David Bell built in Buffalo, N.Y., and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service commissioned into service as the Calumet.

According to the marine research center at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, the Calumet did coastal patrol duty for the U.S. Navy in the 1898 Spanish-American War and was temporarily attached to the New York Division of the U.S. Coast Guard during World War I before returning to work for the U.S. Treasury Department in August 1919.

The Coast Guard changed the vessels name to Tioga in 1934 and she served in the Fifth Naval District in World War II. The New Haven Towing Co. bought the tug in 1947 and renamed it the John F. Drews a moniker that stuck even though the vessel changed hands three more times in the next two decades.

Finally in 1967, Dunbar & Sullivan Dredging Co. of Detroit got title to the vessel and named it William J. Dugan.

Like many steam-powered vessels east of the Mississippi, the Spanky Paine didn't convert to a diesel engine until after World War II. The tug caught fire in 1950 while being towed to Groton, Conn., and lost its wooden cabins and superstructure. A 12-cylinder EMD engine was installed as part of the repairs.

Bad luck continued to dog the tug, which sank in the Elizabeth River at Norfolk, Va., while handling a prefabricated tunnel section. The vessel was resurrected once again, and in 1952 it headed to the Great Lakes region to work on the St. Lawrence Seaway project.

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