Turning over Tom’s tugboat

Published 3:21 pm Tuesday, July 21, 2009

With the promise of hot dogs and eventually a short river cruise, some 50 folks showed up for Tom Smitherman’s “turn over the tugboat” party.

Among the group there were relatives, church friends, neighborhood pals and long-standing friends from school and from the sheriff’s office. It took 22 of the strongest of those to accomplish the feat.

Smitherman is building the boat in his basement shop and needed to take the 1,000 pound finished hull outside, turn it over and then move it back into the shop for the next phase of construction. The finished tugboat will be almost 20–feet long and about 8–feet wide.

It will have a 10 horsepower engine with top speed of 6 knots, or 7 mph, and get 12 miles per gallon of gas. It’ll have a head, a small galley, two berths and space on the floor for a sleeping bag for the grandkids.

The rear cockpit area will be open with seating on each side. The hull represents a year’s work and the halfway point for the completed project.

Another party activity was the selection of a name for the boat. Each guest voted from a list of five names.

The winning name was “Knot so Fast.” Incidentally, that was noted as the first choice of Smitherman’s 7–year–old granddaughter, Abby Wilson.

The boat builder is the retired chief deputy of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. He explained that in his retirement he has thoroughly enjoyed woodworking and that after taking a sailboat river trip he had a real desire to do some cruising by boat.

“Tom and I made a cruise years ago from Demopolis to the Fairhope area on my very slow sailboat bayhorse,” said Terry Arnold. “We took up, as river travelers will, with a trawler (tugboat) that had a speed almost as slow and so we tied alongside at night, and there in the Tombigbee wilderness ate like kings aboard the trawler. I think that experience may have lit the fire for river travel and convinced Tom to build the trawler. It’s a great concept. When it’s finished and on the water it’ll look just like the big tugboats that pass by and the captains of those will be radioing Tom with lots of questions about its construction.”

Smitherman loves to talk about his boatbuilding and will be very happy to talk with anyone who might be interested in building his or her own boat. He can be contacted at mtsmitherman@gmail.com.