The operator’s tugboats travel up and down the Hudson River with regularity, pushing one or more stone scows, loaded or light, between the quarries and crushers upriver and the countless building projects in metropolitan New York City.
But on July 5, Sarah D. and Nathan G. attracted multitudes on a southbound trip. It called to mind the “crowds of water-gazers” mentioned in the first few paragraphs of Moby Dick. Granted, it was a sunny, spectacular Sunday, and hundreds of miles of riverbank allowed COVID-weary folks to congregate along the waterway and on diverse boats while still respecting social distancing guidelines.
What attracted the crowds was the tow: USS Slater, a World War II-era destroyer escort launched in 1944. In the last months of the war, it accompanied five convoys across the North Atlantic, armed with a variety of U-boat destruction tools — now inert but appearing ready for use on the ship.
A museum attraction vessel in Albany since 1997, the 306-foot Slater has a functional generator, but its main engines — though cosmetically restored — do not run. Therefore, tugboats are essential for it to move.
From 1951 until 1991, Slater sailed for the Greek navy as Aetos (Eagle). In lieu of scrapping it as planned in 1991, the Greeks donated the vessel to the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association, which spearheaded fundraising to have it towed from Crete to New York in 1993. Gephard, a 262-foot Russian tug, was contracted for the trans-Atlantic tow. After passing Gibraltar on a towline, the expectation was that Slater had only a 50 percent chance to survive the crossing.
Nearly three decades later, the vessel was headed for a shipyard overhaul that would include hull maintenance, zebra mussel removal, and wiring and restoration work on its 90-foot mast. The project was scheduled at Caddell Dry Dock and Repair, a little over 130 nautical miles downriver from Albany in Staten Island.
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