Yacht El Primero
18 August 2013
The first honorary committee boat.
Photo courtesy of Ron R. Burke
who loved this boat so much
he crafted a fine scale model.
Now a major Puget Sound maritime festival, the Olympia Harbor Days vintage tug boat races began in 1975 when only six small workboats gathered for a single heat race north of Olympia's harbor on Budd Inlet.
The Olympia tug race has its historic roots in the informal towing boat competitive events which began before the turn of the century on Puget Sound. On major holidays, workboat skippers would pit their vessels against those of other captains to decide who had the fastest and most powerful tugs. Today that tradition lives on as members of the Retired Tug Association and other skippers come to the Capital city to race, gather their crews and families, and join in the fun of Harbor Days and Harbor Fair.
The initial race nine years ago was started by Captain Bert Giles, who had continued to signal the beginning of the competition with a blast of the whistle from his historic mini-steamboat Crest. Finishing first in that original race was Gordon Willies's small tug Sunset which was one of the workboats once owned by Delta V. Smyth, a pioneer Olympia tugboat operator. Wayne Smyth, who followed his father as head of Delson Lumber Co, donated a trophy in his father's name. The award, which was presented to the Sunset at the initial race, remains the first place honor for the Harbor Days Inland Class event.
Word of the first race began spreading throughout the Puget Sound area, and in 1976, 16 tugboats came to Olympia to compete. Both the 1976 and 1977 races were won by the 100-ft tug Odin (ex-Prosper,) then owned by Al Wolover of Seattle. The second race included several tug skippers who have returned for the Harbor Days events ever since: Mark Freeman of Seattle, who owns the Sovereign, Standfast, and Barf; Jon Paterson of Gig Harbor, who now owns the Winamac; Dan Grinstead of Seattle, owner of the Lorna Foss, and Franz Schlottman of Olympia, who owns the host Harbor Days tug Sandman.
In 1978, Odin and the Simmons Towboat Company's Beaver shared first place honors and the Delta V. Smyth perpetual trophy. However, Wolover of the Odin claimed permanent ownership of the award and a new Smyth trophy was created for subsequent annual presentations.
In 1979 Olympia tugboat race winner was Les Cooper's Chickamauga, the first diesel-powered tug built in the US, followed by a 1980 win by Stan Longaker's Palomar.
For the past three years, the small and fast Reliance, owned and piloted by Phil Shively of Bainbridge Island, has churned away with the first place inland class honors. Among the larger tugs, Crowley Maritime Corp 's Retreiver bested the Arthur Foss in the 1981 Unlimited Class race. The Mini Class race, for tugs under 20-ft long, was won by Willy Block's tug Trio of Olympia.
In the 1982 race, in addition to the Reliance, the winner of the Mini Class event was Eric Freeman in the tug Barf. The Unlimited Class race was cancelled because of the potential danger to spectator boats caused by the huge bow waves created by the larger tugs.
Captain Phil Martin
Photo courtesy of John Dustrude,
Friday Harbor, WA.
❖ Then in 1986, to the Labor Day races at Olympia came a contingent from the San Juan Islands.
Phil Martin on the Favorite won first place in the small tug boat class.
Martin's Favorite was as well known in Friday Harbor as is Captain Martin. It is fitting that Favorite should win first place after being tied to a dock in red tape for two years prior to this race as a result of a law suit.
Martin and Favorite were familiar faces at Memorial Day and Labor Day tug boat races. "Everbody was glad to see the Favorite back on the block." said friend and crew member, Kim Slocomb.
According to Slocomb, Martin took back possession of Favorite just three days before the races in Olympia.
He was noticeably enthusiastic about what he referred to as the midnight speed trials Thursday evening, and the good performance of the boat on its way to Olympia and at the races on Sunday.
Favorite, a 36-foot tug built in 1937 for Tacoma Tug and Barge was a noticeable part of the Friday Harbor scene and often photographed for years.
Slocomb said prior to a lawsuit over the tug, Favorite was overhauled from stem to stern to the tune of $200,000. "I was the one who built the machinery on the boat," he said.
Slocomb, who droved down to Olympia to meet Favorite and was on board for the races and events, said the scene at the tug boat races at Percival Landing in downtown Olympia was a festival of street bands, food concessions, and racing events. One of the traditional events is to have all the tug boats run against a Foss tug the morning of the races.
Slocomb said they all raced against Henry Foss and he thought the race seemed to be going well until he realized the Foss tug was running in reverse.
"The Henry Foss does 13 knots sideways or backwards. It's the most phenomenal display of horse power and engineering I ever saw in my life," Slocomb said.
On the Water
Friday Harbor Journal, 3 September 1986.