EARLY HISTORY OF THE TUGBOAT KATAHDIN (1899-1977) from Mike Skalley’s “FOSS–Ninety Years of Towboating,” revised edition.

The coal-burning steam cannery tug KATAHDIN, long before she became CATHERINE FOSS, was owned by the Anacortes Packing Company and used in northern Puget Sound towing fish-scows and floating fish-traps. Her service for Anacortes Packing turned out to be very brief for they sold her in July 1901 to Alaska Packers Association of San Francisco. However, the A.P.A. made Blaine, Washington, the KATAHDIN’s home port and she spent the next thirteen years working on Puget Sound. Her skippers during the A.P.A. ownership were Captains Krull and Humphreys, old hands in the fish packing business.

In April 1917 the KATAHDIN’s life as a cannery tender ended when the Cary-Davis Towing Company of Seattle bought her for use as a tugboat. Captain J. R. Thurston was first in charge, followed by Elmer Olsen and Roy Small. Cary Davis, within a year, had three other tugs in operation, the EQUATOR, CHEHALIS, and OREGON, giving the new Company good coverage for all of Puget Sound.

The KATAHDIN continued in service until the mid- ’20s when Cary-Davis laid her up in favor of newer oil-fired steam tugs and economical diesel tugs. Her firebox remained cold for several years and from all appearances, the KATAHDIN would never tow another raft of logs. But the Wagner Tugboat Company of Seattle could see a use for the tug and they bought her in June 1930.

Wagner updated the KATAHDIN; they removed the engine, boilers, and deckhouses, then installed a 6-cylinder, 350 horsepower Union diesel. New fuel tanks with a capacity of nearly 5,000 gallons, giving a cruising range of 1,800 miles, were fitted down below. With the addition of a new modern deckhouse, she appeared as a late-model and powerful linehaul tug.

The KATAHDIN started her Wagner service in September 1930 and on one of her early tows, with Captain William Spurgeon, she towed 24 sections of logs from Anacortes to Shilshole Bay in 25 hours, a distance of 65miles. Good time with a drag of almost 4,000 tons. However, the KATHADIN was planned for international towing and shortly after her trial runs, she started on long hauls from Union Bay and Chemainus, B.C. to Seattle with log rafts–a 115 mile tow.


Seattle waterfront in 1952.

In the following years she earned a record of superior performance even though her operating cost was high, caused by having the engine controlled only from the engine room and not from the pilot house. The arrangement required an engineer on watch at all times when running, but it had only one advantage, the engineers were able to maintain the big diesel in excellent condition and the Union never let them down. The general appearance of the tug always drew compliments, she had the reputation of being one of the best cared-for tugs on the Sound and with this in mind another owner was ready to acquire the KATAHDIN’s excellence and reputations.

In the Wagner Towboat Company purchase, Foss obtained the showy tug and Captain Frank Reardon, her skipper at the time of the transfer, continued to run her on the Wagner routes until late 1939 when she was transferred to Port Angeles for log towing on the Straits and to up-Sound ports.

The tug retained her original name until July 1940 when in keeping with Foss’ current policy of using family names, the KATAHDIN became the CATHERINE FOSS in honor of a daughter of Chris and Hildur Foss.

The CATHERINE continued her long-time log-towing career by towing Merrill & Ring Logging Company rafts from the Pysht River to Port Angeles. She did this on a regular schedule, weather permitting, often bringing 18 log sections to Port Angeles making the 40-mile tow in 17 hours. For variation, she occasionally delivered one of her tows to the Crown Zellerback Mill at Port Townsend. During her four-year sting in Port Angeles, the CATHERINE was involved in two serious incidents, one of which ended in tragedy.

The first occurred in the early morning fog in Admiralty Inlet on November 26, 1941. Captain Russ Benthein’s Log Book entries state that the CATHEINE was running light from Seattle to Discovery Bay to pick up a log tow. At 0100, Point-no-Point was passed and at the time the sky was overcast, but within twenty minutes, the Mate had to slow the tug to half speed due to a fog bank. Echoes from whistle blasts were used to determine their position and at 0115 the Mate rang the engine room for slow as an echo came back from the land. The next entry reads: “At 0125 the CATHERINE went aground in thick fog. Established position as between Lip Lip Point and Oak Bay. After making a survey of the tug, called Tacoma office for assistance to aid vessel to right herself when the tide rises as at present she is listing 45 degrees to starboard. Caulked doors on low side and after-hatch to keep water out as tide rose. At 0700 vessel on nearly even keel.” But the problems were not over. Shortly after 0700, the CATHERINE healed over, but to port, letting water in all the side doors. The doors were then secured and the crew began pumping with a portable pump furnished by the FOSS 18, arriving in the meantime to render assistance. The CATHERINE’s pump was inoperative due to the list, but the FOSS 18 pump was gaining on the inflow of water until it overheated and stopped. The crew then decided to leave the flooded boat, take their gear and row ashore and await the new pumps and the evening tide.

At high water, and with help from the FOSS 18 and DREW FOSS, the water was pumped out and the CATHERINE floated free. The FOSS 18 took the crew to Tacoma and the DREW towed the water-soaked tug to the Foss yard.

After several days of clean-up and repair, she left for Port Angeles to resume herding logs. Captain Benthein remained with the tug until mid-1942 when three other Port Angeles skippers followed–Captains Bundy, Read, and Oliver–all experienced in log-towing.

The CATHERINE’s second misfortune occurred in late 1942. She had left Port Ludlow at noon on November 21st with 32 sections of Grays Harbor hemlock logs for Port Angeles. But she only ran as far as Washington Harbor before worsening weather forced the crew to anchor in the sheltered bay to wait for flatter water. From the 24th on and for the next 15 days, the 6-man crew waited in vain for safe log-towing weather. Hoping for a break, on December 9th, they left the log sin the Harbor and headed out to check the sea condition. Unfortunately, on the way they ran afoul of Middle Ground Shoal and the boat took a sudden heavy roll to port. At the time she hit, the Cook, Carl Feyh, was in the W.C. washing up before turning-to in the galley. The W.C. door was open and when the CATHERINE took the quick deep roll, the Cook was thrown through the doorway and right over the side into the cold dark water–a strange accident to happen to a cook! Hearing the Cook’s yells the Mate and Deckhand launched the skiff, rowed over to the Cook and pulled him aboard. Rowing at double-time for the dock, they set the shivering Cook ashore at Bugges’ Cannery for transportation to the hospital. But the exposure was too much for hem and he passed away the following day–greatly to the grief and surprise of his shipmates.

Fortunately, they were able to back the CATHERINE off the shoal and 12 hours later, in moderate weather with a flood tide, they were under way for Port Angeles with the long tow, arriving on December 11 after a 20-day trip of 33 miles! She continued towing for the Port Angeles division until she exchanged places with the Seattle tug, MARTHA FOSS. So the CATHERINE went on barge work and the MARTHA took over log towing.

On one of the CATHERINE’s routine barge tows and during a black night, she became involved in a costly accident, but through no fault of the tug or crew. She was towing the loaded 6,000-barrel oil barge FOSS-99 from Edmonds to Seattle. Having a maximum load aboard, the barge’s deck was awash making it difficult to see the vessel even with the sidelight and the pumphouse at the stern. As frequently happens, a ship approached the barge on a collision course unaware of the danger. A Navy tug, with a crash and rending of metal, heard up ahead on the CATHERINE, plowed into the side of the barge at full speed. In a matter of minutes the oil barge broke in two and sank, just off Meadow Point near Shilshole Bay, but the tug escaped with only a bashed-in bow. Today such a spill would be an environmental disaster, though in 1945 it was just considered a tough break-losing a barge and an oil cargo. The CATHERINE’s luck changed for the better after the barge loss and she was free of accidents for the rest of her Foss life.

An interesting job came up for her in June and July 1959. She had a part in the construction of the Hood Canal floating bridge by towing gravel scows from Steilacoom pit to the bridge construction site where the gravel was used for anchor ballast. The sand and gravel was poured by chute into the anchors after they were sunk into position. Two tugs, primarily the CATHERINE, and five scows delivered 45 loads, 25,000 tons, of sand and gravel to hold the anchors and the bridge in place. The anchors are still undisturbed, but not so the bridge–the western half broke loose from the anchors and sank in a freak storm in February 1979–causing a circuitous re-routing of traffic.

The CATHERINE continued on routine towing until mid-February 1961 then tied up due to a drop in the work load and the extra-expense handicap of engine room control, requiring two engineers. She remained at the Foss dock on standby reserve throughout the year. Then in mid-January 1962 the ANNA FOSS suffered serious bow damage due to yher engine failing to reverse, so the CATHERINE was re-activated as substitute tug. She left the pier with Captain Pat O’Malley aboard, but four hours later a breakdown occurred forcing a return to the yard for electrical repairs. Much of the tug’s wiring shorted out due to dampness from the long idle period.

During the spring of 1962 towing orders increased and even with the ANNA returning to service in April, the CATHERINE continued to operate on a regular basis until November 1963 when, due to usual winter curtailment, she again went into lay-up to await the spring activity.

But she didn’t get away until May, with alternate Captains George Walker and Skip Lampman. The 65-year-old tug ran steadily and trouble-free through the summer and fall barging oil and gravel. Then in October, with the return of two new tugs from Cook Inlet, Alaska, the CATHERINE’s usefulness was over. So after delivering two gravel scows to Lake Union on Friday, November 5, 1964 Captain Walker was informed that the “CAT” was being retired and all gear, supplies, and stores were to be taken ashore.

In early 1965 Foss towed her to Tacoma where the engine and other machinery was removed and the CATHERINE placed in dead storage alongside the FOSS 16, MARGARET, and MYRTLE FOSS–all waiting for some final disposition.

The CATHERINE and the MYRTLE were sold in June 1969 to Foss Captain Roy Durgan, who bought and sold boats as a sideline. Roy Durgan held the CATHERINE until 1974 then sold her to Alex Vaughn of Seattle. Vaughn towed her to Lake Union and began a major rebuilding program. However, in less than a year, he sold the tug to the present owner, Joseph Kenna of Anacortes. Kenna installed a used Atlas and other machinery to make the CATHERINE operational and he had the hull repaired and much of the deck replaced. In April 1977 Mr. Kenna renamed the tug KATAHDIN and shortly after, with the shipyard work completed, he towed the tug to LaConner where the rehabilitation of the 80-year-old tug is continuing.

The KATAHDIN should now be ready to make her debut on the Sound and join the unique and select club of octogenarian tugboats, many of them like herself graduates from Foss.

The following are notes by the current owner, Doug Leen:

Katahdin Hull 1899

The KATAHDIN was built on the beach on the Duwamish Waterways in 1899 by Martin Hanson, who started a ship building business in 1898, and stands on the right of this unique photograph. There is some confusion to the relationship to Martin Hanson and Hanson Brothers Boats–which were likely not a boat yard, but shippers.   Martin’s son was Harold Cornelius Hanson.  I’ll clear this up shortly…but don’t hold your breath.


The KATAHDIN never had an Atlas engine–a Washington Estep was installed and later removed after failing to run properly.  Originally the KATAHDIN had a compound steam engine which was removed to make way for the powerful 350 horsepower Union–making her one of the most powerful tugs on Puget Sound. Currently, the KATAHDIN is powered by a 1944 Washington Iron Works 6R13 ser #7520), originally built for the port engine of, but never installed in, the Navy ship Glasford due to the end of World War II.

The next owner after Skalley’s history was Peter Strong who used the KATAHDIN as a yard tug for his burgeoning break-bulk shipping company, Coastal Transportation. He sold the tug to Hap and Linda Schnase of Camano Island April 1986. They used it as a pleasure craft, making several trips to Desolation Sound. In fall of 1989, they drove the tug to Baxter Boat Company, Orcas Island for repairs. The Schnase’s made a poor choice as David Baxter had other plans for the KATAHDIN and dismantled the tug rendering it useless for the next six years. Purchased from the divorcing Schnases in October 1994 by current owner, Doug Leen, (now living aboard in Alaska) in “as is, where is” condition, the KATAHDIN was painstakingly restored over the next 20+ years.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email