Historic Tugboat Luna

Patrick Otton
LUNA Preservation Society, Inc.
P.O. Box 368
Charlestown, MA 02129

Tugboat Luna Preservation Society logo


"If Beauty Brings Luck, then Luna Will Laugh at all Disaster"

so said the press when Luna first appeared on the Boston waterfront. Now, Boston's seafaring history can smile for its future. The Queen of the Fleet, the one-of-a-kind historic tug Luna, is on her way to recovering her past glory, coming back from the brink of disaster.

Luna was the first diesel-electric tug built for a commercial towing company. Luna represents a step in the continuing evolution in propulsion, power, and control.

Imagine a tugboat from the drawing board of a famous yacht designer -- Luna's design is the work of one of the honored names in yacht design, John Alden. When she was built in 1930, she got "cutting edge" or the "state-of-the-art" technology for her powerplant: a diesel-electric system that allowed precise handling in the tricky maneuvers close alongside ships in port. Luna was among the first to be built with this industrial advance. General Electric was so proud of her system that 20 years later and well into the 1950s, Luna still appeared in GE ads. While she was still part of the "working fleet," Luna docked the great passenger liners as S.S. Normandie and often towed USS Constitution on parade. She represents the "working waterfront" that gave Boston one of its vital links, the link to foreign commerce and the world economy. Now, Luna is the last of her kind.

Maritime transportation has evolved from sail, steam assist sail, steam, direct drive diesel, diesel-electric, diesel with transmission/reduction gear boxes, and now hybrid systems using both diesel-electric and diesel systems.

The propulsion system designed for Luna evolved from the railroads. Tugboats and trains have the same problem: acceleration of very heavy loads at very low speeds. What worked for the RR was applied to tugboats. Penn RR was first to implement the design in their push boats dedicated to their RR barges in NY harbor.

For the first time, tugboat captain's were able to control with ease both power and direction directly from the pilot house or the aft steering station. The drive was efficient, giving Luna tremendous thrust at low speeds. The diesel-electric drives gave good weight distribution and space utilization, enabled optimum engine speed, effective propeller speed, and instantaneous motor control, with eight speeds both forward and reverse. Luna represents an engineering design transition in maritime transportation that is still being used today.


National Register Of Historic Places 1983
Boston Landmark 1985
National Historic Landmark 1989

Owners: Mystic Steamship Co., Boston MA
Operated By: Boston Tow Boat Co., Boston, MA
Design: ohn Alden Co. Boston, MA 1930
Built: M. M. Davis Shipyard, Solomons, MD
Equipment Installed: Bethlehem Shipbuilding CO., East Boston, MA
Launched: July 29, 1930
Completed: October 17, 1930
L.O.A.: 98
Beam: 24
Displacement: 335 Tons
Draft: fwd: 12, aft: 13

Hull: Oak on oak, with yellow pitch pine ceiling plank:

frames: 6" x 12" oak on 22" centers
planking: upper four planks on sheer:
4" x 10", 4" x 12", then
3" thick down to garboard
ceiling plank:
bilge: 3" x 10" yellow pine
bilge strakes: 6" x 8" yellow pine
ceiling: 4" x 8" yellow pine
Shelf: 3 ea. 6" x 8" yellow pine edge fastened
Keel: 12" x 12" white oak
Diesels: WINTON 129, solid (airless) injection,
12-1/2" x 16", 6 cylinder
330 B.H.P., @300 rpm each.
Direct connect to generators
Generators: General Electric, Two @ 213K.W. each
Exciters: GE Two @ 25K.W. each
Main Motor: GE One double armature, 516H.P. @125rpm

Fuel Capacity: 21 tons
Steering: Electro-Hydraulic system.
Max Speed:11 knots @ 130 rpm, (650 S.H.P.)

LUNA Preservation Society's (LPS) STORY:

Fall 1991, Original involvement

For about two years, Luna lay with the aft deck awash in the Charles River basin, Boston, MA. Without the constant care afforded to the wooden hull, Luna slowly settled into the mud. Left without a caretaker, the State of Massachusetts stepped in to dispose of Luna and her sister tug, Venus. Luna Preservation Society, Inc., was formed with the vision of preserving the NHL tug as a historic artifact -- to be utilized in the process of learning.

Luna represents much more than just another sunken wooden boat to be saved. Luna is a NHL, with cultural and community value. Luna's diesel-electric system can be approached from K through 12 and continuing onto the graduate study level.

LPS was Incorporated July 1992, in the State of Massachusetts and received 501(c)(3) designation July 1994, as a Museum/Educational Institution.

LPS's mission is to restore the NHL tugboat Luna to operating condition, applying the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Historic Vessel Preservation. Luna will be utilized as a platform for education. During Restoration and eventual Operation LPS will teach:
Why do tugs look like tugs? - naval architecture,
How do tugs work? - engineering,
What do they do? - economics and social studies.
As a NHL Luna, communicates historic preservation and community service.
FALL 1992,
Raising from Charles

In 1991 the State of Massachusetts deemed Luna a hazard within Navigable waters and initiated plans for her disposal. In August 1992, the State's contractor raised Luna, but without a destination or plan Luna was simply towed to the contractor's yard in Boston Harbor. And again without proper care, Luna was allowed to sink - but this time in salt water and exposed to a 12' tidal wash up to the pilot house. Luna spent over a year, nearly the whole of 1993, sunken and awash in Boston Harbor subject to the tides and storm surges. Also, left sunken, a barge crushed parts of Luna's hull.

Not having preservation in mind, the State continued with plans for disposal. LPS was arguing for acquisition and preservation.

WINTER 1993/94
Raising December 1993, Into Contractor's Floating dock

Finally in recognition of Sec 106 for Historic Preservation for Threatened Landmarks, the State, under the threat of the loss of Federal funding, decided to dry dock Luna and execute HABBS/HAER photographic documentation as a pre-requisite to disposal. Additionally, Luna was to be prepared for disposal, satisfying EPA requirements. LPS was still arguing for acquisition and preservation and surveyed the vessel with the criteria of evaluating Luna's historic significance as well as determining Luna's structural condition.

At this point, Luna stood in badly damaged condition. No stabilization of the hull, structure or equipment was done. In fact, the State, in compliance with asbestos regulations, striped Luna of protective water proof coverings and left decks and pilot house exposed to the weather. No attempt was made to keep Luna free of fresh water accumulation in the bilges - which later froze, Nor was any attempt made to flush Luna's equipment of salt water contamination.

Luna was left without protection or stabilization as the State continued with plans for disposal and LPS was arguing for preservation.

Luna lays in dry dock without care or protection.

The State initiated plans to move Luna, and covered the hull with 4 mil plastic, 1x2" battens, dry wall screws, and built false-bulwarks using 1/8" Luan plywood. The only benefit is that the wooden hull is kept wet - but with fresh water.

Arguing between the State and LPS.

The State decides to auction Luna as surplus property, with "As is - Where is" qualifiers. LPS was the only bidder. In February, the State began demolition of Venus, Luna's sister tug, using an excavator claw and disposed of Venus in a landfill. LPS was not permitted to salvage parts from Venus.

The State intended to break-up Luna as well. Before, the State began demolition, LPS went before Superior Court, and was awarded an injunction against both the State and their contractor, with a Cease and Desist Motion, winning a decision which allowed LPS 10 days to acquire Luna "as is - where is".

MARCH 1995,
Emergency Stabilization, Undocking

Since she escaped from imminent demolition, Luna's defenders have had all they could do just to put the brakes on her decline. It has taken serious effort and cash just to get to the point where her condition could be "stabilized."

Anonymous Donation

In February 1995, Luna lay in a drydock about to be demolished. Instead, she got a last-minute reprieve. With the wrecking claw figuratively in mid-swing, her supporters finally got a chance to go to work to save her. They hastily made her much-neglected and abused hull watertight by covering the hull with an industrial roofing membrane, (PVC) and floated her to safety in the nick of time.

Between 1995 and 1997 LPS received State and Federal dollars for the preservation of Luna. Our objective has always been to stabilize Luna -- allowing time for qualified objective assessment of historic preservation and programmatic development rather than disposal. Like her sister tug, Venus, once Luna is gone - the qualities and potentials that she represents would also be lost.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Service Fund, grant for the research, identification, and collection of historic documentation concerning Luna. This included historic photographs, engineering drawings, books, and manuals.
State of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund, grant for continuing stabilization of Luna. LPS implemented multi-phased tasks:
  • Docking and inspection of the PVC membrane
  • Weather proofing the decks
  • Scraping interior surfaces
  • Installation of electrical distribution system
  • Cleaning bilge
  • Re-manufacture and install doors
  • Photo documentation of configuration and condition
LPS has also been awarded $675,000 ISTEA award for execution of Phase I of Rehabilitation: Repair of the wooden hull to re-establish water tight integrity. The remaining phases include Phase II Repair of equipment and Phase III Operations. The ISTEA project is in the implementation phase, task items being defined, repair site identified, and final MOA's drafted.
LPS has successfully carried out much of the stabilization and initial preservation of Luna principally though volunteer effort thanks to her ardent supporters and thanks also to educational programs that use her as a platform for teaching. This has occurred through 50 hour per week of volunteer time, 48 hours per month of community service time, 18 hours of on board time per month for an education curriculum, this totaled this past summer 800 hours of hands-on learning experience.

Within this time span, Luna has qualified for some $700,000 in grants to restore her former grace and integrity.

LPS has already started to use Luna for the kind of teaching that she will do full time, once she is finally restored.

LPS, in conjunction with South Shore Charter School, Hull, Massachusetts, has developed a 400 page curriculum, studying Naval Architecture, Electrical engineering, and Mechanical engineering.

That curriculum is to be expanded to include:
Video, Film, Written descriptions
Public involvement
WWW, News letters
Historical Research
While on board Luna, student hours qualify as Community Service, as part of the semester's requirements.

LPS has also worked with, MassPEP, Massachusetts Pre-Engineering Program, which provides engineering experience and exposure for Jr. High School students, with work study program onboard Luna.

Luna provides opportunities for interpretation and teaching of an abundance of subjects and skills, including:

  • history and economics of the region and the port, as revealed by the trade patterns that propelled the design and construction of Luna
  • politics and economics of international seaborne trade, as witnessed by the life span of Luna, and the life cycle of Boston as a seaport
  • the role of the tugboat in keeping alive the age of sailing ships in commercially viable trade; the social history of immigration into Boston aboard the great liners; the strategy and politics of the war as reflected in Luna's convoy assembly work
  • industrial design and economics, as revealed in the forces that led to the selection of diesel-electric propulsion, and to the choice of wood over steel for the hull
  • vessel design, layout, interpretation of plans and drawings, CAD applications: Layout, materials parts lists, etc..
  • the Material Science: chemistry, physics, and material characteristics of wood as a construction material.
  • techniques of wood shaping, fitting, and fastening
  • the physics and finesse of handling of ships and barges with a tugboat
LPS, as caretaker, and Luna, as an NHL, offer a unique experience for utilization of a cultural resource. Luna can will continue into the future, not as a commercial tug with ships in tow but instead as part of the historic water front with people in tow.

PLEA for Help.

There are many aspects of running a non-profit and this project offers many aspects for participation. These include administrative functions, planning and programmatic development, as well as historic preservation and operation of Luna.

  1. Planning
    Phase I -- Wooden Hull Repair
    Phase II -- Equipment Repair
    Phase II -- Operations
    Phase IV -- Sustenance, Continued Operations
  2. Wood Hull, Mechanical equipment, Electrical Equipment All these components need to be identified, documented and researched -- before work begins.
  3. Education
    LPS proposes to use both the process of restoration of Luna, as well as her eventual operation, as a vehicle for education and interpretation. The point is not to create a program to train tugboat operators or wooden ship restorers (even though there may be a wealth of experience in these fields). Instead the point is to use what happens in, on, and around the tug to illustrate, as a "springboard" or "catalyst" for conveying a broader set of skills, useful for the student's whole life. Examples are generally "work ethic" skills: basic responsibility, workplace ethics, planning, organization, safety, teamwork, creativity, problem solving, and "self teaching."
The Luna Preservation Society Inc., is headquartered:
P.O. Box 368
Charlestown, MA 02129 USA
LPS has rewarding opportunities. Inquiries, especially about stabilization, preservation, rehabilitation, and educational programs are welcome.

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Version 1.03, 24 Aug 1997