Tugboat ‘Luna’ on Its Way to Pier 3 in the Navy Yard

An historic, restored tugboat will soon make its home on Pier 3 in the Navy Yard at some point later this summer, ready to tell the story of its important place in the annals of maritime history in Boston Harbor.

The tugboat Luna, a national historic landmark, has been painstakingly restored over the past 17 years by the Luna Preservation Society since it was rescued from its sunken state in East Boston around 1996. The tugboat is the last working example of a wooden-hulled, diesel-electric tug on the East Coast, and now that it’s been restored, the City of Boston and the Society have agreed on a home in Charlestown.

Luna Preservation President Brent Dibner said he was glad to see the Luna find a home on the water so that the Harbor’s maritime history can be completely told.

“We need to celebrate the maritime history of the Port of Boston and we need to step it up,” said Dibner. “The Luna is the last and the only one left that is a wooden-hulled tug that used diesel-electric power on the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States. There were probably 2,000 such tugs ranging from Maine to the Texas-Mexican border. Of all of those tugs that were built and operated and existed, only the Luna survives.”

The Luna was built in 1930 with its sister ship, the Venus, and was the world’s first diesel-electric tugboat – a technology still used by locomotives and a technology that was prized for its ability to slowly and powerfully move big ships. With only a diesel engine, tugs in the early days would stall out at low speeds and couldn’t attain the slowness and gentleness necessary to berth a huge tanker or freighter. The diesel-electric engine was able to use both power sources to create electricity, with that electricity being used to power the motor a low speeds in order to get the slow, gentle push needed to safely dock ships.

As Dibner said, “When you’re docking a 100,000 ton tanker at a dock, that gentle push makes a difference. If you are moving too fast when you hit the dock, it can break up the dock and cause millions of dollars in damages. The Luna pioneered that slow and delicate process.”

Dibner said the technology was incredible, and the Luna is the last example left that is working. However, it was very close to ruin.

The ship was a mainstay in Boston Harbor and up and down the East Coast for the former, historic Boston Tugboat Company (which now exists as Reinauer, which is based in New York/New Jersey). It operated from 1930 to 1956, moving in ships and also being instrumental in constructing the Cape Cod Canal and making rescues of troubled ships.

“After it was retired, the Luna fell into disarray,” Dibner said.

It had sunk in the Charles River, and in 1995 was taken by the Army Corps to East Boston, where they tried to restore it. That’s when the Luna Preservation Society came into play.

“We came along and started our effort around 1995 or 1996 and raised money,” he said. “People thought we were crazy to try to save it. The point is it was a long process of restoration that is now pretty much finished. We have been granted a berth in Charlestown and are working with Reinauer, who is helping.”

Dibner said they are simply waiting for the machinery to return to Boston to create the dock and berth on Pier 3, a spot granted to them through a very cooperative process with the Boston Planning and Development Agency. While they hope for the end of summer, Dibner said they would realistically have everything in place for the public to see by autumn of this year. The Luna Preservation Society can be contacted or donated to by sending correspondence to:  Luna Preservation Society; P.O. Box 1866; Brookline, MA 02446.

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