Monday, May 28, 2018

Celebrating an oil tanker's 80th birthday.

Oil tankers don't, as a rule, survive for eighty years. The giants that haul crude from oil fields to refineries are reckoned to have a useful life of about twenty years, maybe thirty tops. This isn't about one of those.

The Mary A. Whalen was launched in 1938 at the Red Hook, Brooklyn shipyard of Ira S. Bushey & Sons, as the S.T. Kiddoo. (Mr. Kiddoo was a vice president of Fairbanks Morse; the ship has a Fairbanks Morse engine.) She is all of 172 feet long, and served to haul refined products on coastal routes between New York and New England, as well as carrying bunker fuel to ships in New York Harbor. In 1958, when she was converted from carrying gasoline to carrying fuel oil for home heating or for ship bunkering, her name was changed to Mary A. Whalen. An old maritime superstition has it that changing a ship's name brings bad luck. Mary had bad luck on Christmas day, 1968 when she went aground off the Rockaways. This led to a Supreme Court decision that had considerable effect on maritime law.
Mary was taken out of service in 1994. Instead of going for scrap, she was bought by a maritime services firm that used her as a dock and office. In 2006 she was acquired by PortSide New York a not-for-profit organization headed by my friend Carolina Salguera (photo above). PortSide fixed Mary up, secured a berth for her near her Red Hook birthplace, and in 2011 succeeded in having her listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.
For Mary's eightieth birthday, PortSide invited artists aboard. I found Janice McDonnell (photo above) working on a painting of the giant gantry cranes that load and unload container ships at the Red Hook Container Port, a last vestige of ocean going cargo shipping in New York City, almost all of which has moved to New Jersey, and whose demise has ben predicted for some time but which, so far, has survived.

For an account of an earlier party on the Mary A. Whalen, featuring folk music, see here