Oldest wooden tugboat in the U.S.

If we can’t get where we want to go by plane right now, we’ll consider going somewhere by boat.

And to get in the mood, we spent some time at the Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center in Seattle, which has a floating fleet of historic vessels moored at Seattle’s Lake Union Park. Our tour guide was marine archeologist Saxon Bisbee.

Historic Lightship

The 129-foot-long Lightship No 83, known as Swiftsure, launched in 1904. It served as a floating lighthouse in several ports under various names, including Blunts Reef, San Francisco, and Relief. In addition to being the oldest lightship in the country, Swiftsure is the only one to still have its original steam engine.

Historic Halibut Schooner

The fishing vessel Tordenskjold dates to 1911 and was built in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Named for Norwegian/Danish naval hero Peter Tordenskiold, this sturdy, 75-foot halibut schooner is made from fir planks and old-growth timber and fished the North Pacific and the Bering Sea for 100 years.

Celebrity Tugboat

To many, the real star here is the 120-foot-long Arthur Foss. It is the country’s oldest wooden tugboat and the oldest floating vessel in the Pacific Northwest.

Courtesy NW Seaport

Built in Portland, OR in 1889 (the year Washington became a state) and launched as the Wallowa, the tug’s first job was towing sailing ships across the treacherous bar at the mouth of the Columbia River.

During the go-go Klondike Gold Rush, the tug towed ships and barges to Alaska.

Purchased by Seattle’s Foss Maritime and renamed the Arthur Foss after the eldest son of company founder Thea and Andrew Foss, the tug was tapped for a starring role as the Narcissus in the hit 1933 film Tugboat Annie.

That film and several sequels, including one featuring Ronald Reagan, were based on a series of short stories about a tough-talking female tug skipper inspired by Seattle’s waterfront culture and the Foss family saga.

Updated after the movie with a diesel engine replacing its steam one, the powerful Arthur Foss went on to have many more adventures, including military service during WWII, before retiring in 1968.

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