New York Harbor Voices

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Capt. Pamela Hepburn

Tugboat captain and preservationist

This is the first in our occasional series called Harbor Voices, which introduces you to some of the faces and personalities of New York Harbor, based on the anthology of the same name by maritime author Terry Walton. “Harbor Voices” (Sea History Press, 2008, $19.95) is available at www.seahistory.org. This installment was written by Lee Gruzen.

There is no typical day at work for Pamela Hepburn, director of the Tug Pegasus Preservation Project.

“There are office days and meeting days and tug days,” says Hepburn, who is also a licensed tugboat captain with a 500-ton Master’s License. “Days in my pajamas, days when I have to look somewhat reasonable, and days when I have to get really dirty.”

Hepburn coordinates everything related to the maintenance and restoration of Pegasus according to American Bureau of Shipping standards, as well as write grants and coordinate volunteers.

“We’re entering the fifth year of the Police Athletic League’s Maritime Adventure Program, one of many programs envisioned to bring people to the water and their city’s history. It’s the most fun to see people feel ownership of a waterfront that has been closed off to them for so long.”

Asked about a highlight of her career, Pamela replies, “My year docking ships for Moran in 1998. The primary function of a tugboat is to do ‘ship assist.’ Ship assist is a fantastic dynamic of pushing and pulling passenger liners and container ships … hours of boredom and seconds of sheer terror. You’re dancing with the ship in very close quarters. New York is the only port that docks vessels perpendicular to the stream in all currents, not just in slack water. Tricky. What a great job. But I had to retire because living aboard for a week at a time was not compatible with raising my daughter, Alice.”

Harbor interconnections for Hepburn are numerous. She ran Hepburn Marine Towing for 10 years, has support from the tug industry for the Pegasus Project, and serves as trustee for many organizations supporting historic vessels, including the lighthouse tender Lilac and the North River Historic Ship Society.

Pamela has “always had a passion for old stuff and how it is constructed.” Her pleasure is to preserve a piece of history, whether it’s a 1953 diesel engine or the mortises in a wheelhouse.

Pegasus today is completing substantial needed restoration work, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

— Lee Gruzen

Author Terry Walton is a lifelong sailor who lives in Cold Spring Harbor in Long Island. She and her husband sailed their 28-foot Herreshoff ketch around Long Island for 22 years. The former managing editor of Boating magazine and a founding trustee of South Street Seaport Museum

(www.southstreetseaportmuseum.org), Walton is also vice chair of the Working Harbor Committee (www.workingharbor.org).

This article originally appeared in the Connecticut & New York Home Waters Section of the October 2009 issue.