Restored tugboat to remain local fixture at Billy’s by the Bay

09/23/2017 6:00 AM |

Mike Twohig remembers summer Sundays when he’d take his grandchildren out in Greenport Harbor in the little red tugboat he built himself using bits and pieces found in neighbors’ yards or donated by friends.

His grandson Michael would drive the 16-foot boat, known as Drummer Hoff, turning heads as it puttered through the water. They’d pass a packed Claudio’s, where visitors would wave and take pictures, and invite other children aboard for a spin.

“It’s a beautiful little tug,” said Jeff Goubeaud, harbormaster at Brewer Yacht Yard, where the boat arrived in about 1994. “Almost every kid in Greenport’s probably been out on it one time or another in their lifetime.”

Mr. Twohig and his late wife, Barbara Duff Twohig, brought the boat to Greenport, where they already had a sailboat and later bought a house.

“The interesting thing was that the boat took on a life of its own,” Mr. Twohig’s daughter Kathy LaRosa, said. It began appearing on posters for the Greenport Maritime Festival and some people thought it belonged to the village.

The tugboat’s time on the water has since come to an end, but it will remain a fixture in Greenport at its new home within the yacht yard, in front of Billy’s on the Bay restaurant.

“It’s a tribute to the heritage of Greenport’s maritime existence,” Mr. Twohig said Friday, sitting on the deck at Billy’s, a spot the Twohig family frequents and considers their “Cheers.”

The boat was decommissioned two years ago after it was deemed no longer seaworthy. Mr. Twohig has said that, for a time, the only thing holding the tug together were “the termites holding hands.”

At first, Mr. Twohig insisted he could patch it up, but yacht yard employees told him it’d likely sink and would be costly to remedy.

“I can swim,” he replied. Mr. Goubeaud pointed out to him that it had rained the night before, but there was “not a drop in there,” Mr. Twohig said. The water had gone straight through the bottom of the vessel.

Drummer Hoff, named for a children’s book Mr. Twohig’s grandchildren enjoyed, sat in the boat yard with an uncertain future.

“Nobody wanted to finish the destruction of it,” Ms. LaRosa said.

But that changed early this summer when Mr. Twohig’s friends Dr. Ken Mattucci and carpenter Anthony Gallo approached him “out of the blue” with the idea of restoring the boat and finding a place to display it. But the work would not really start until a location was settled.

The tugboat was built in the early 1990s. (Courtesy photo)

One morning, Mr. Twohig walked by Billy’s on the Bay and noticed a small grassy spot in front of the restaurant. He thought the tugboat would look great there and immediately went to Mike Acebo, general manager at Brewer’s, who quickly agreed.

“It keeps his association with us alive and well; the boat doesn’t have to be in the water for him to come down and look at it and be with it,” Mr. Acebo said. “We don’t just have customers who rent slips, we have friends.”

Mr. Twohig said he was thrilled to see the tug, which he built in his driveway and which became a part of his family and life, restored. Originally, Ms. LaRosa had asked him to build Drummer Hoff in the early 1990s for her sons, then 1 and 2 years old, thinking it would be a tugboat-shaped sandbox.

“And the next thing I know he built this magnificent little tugboat,” Ms. LaRosa said. For her husband, Ken LaRosa, the most interesting part of the original build was that it was done on a low budget with collected pieces, sometimes found just by driving past a home, seeing a needed piece in someone’s yard and asking if they could have it.

“It was really done out of love and care by a lot of just finding people that were donating this or that,” Mr. LaRosa said. “There were days where I would just be driving with him and we saw pieces of things left over in someone’s yard that we’d ask if we could have and that’s how the boat was built. It was amazing.”

The restoration project, which Mr. Twohig called a “team effort,” meant as much to him as the original construction, his daughter said. In a short time, he had lost important pieces in his life.

His wife died in February 2016, their 30-foot sailboat was moved across the country to be with his son and the tugboat was out of the water, out of service. It was a lonely year, Mr. Twohig said.

“But once these guys wanted to do this, I lit right up,” he said. “‘I said, ‘Oh this is what I want to do.’ ”

Mr. Twohig took on painting the tug, while Mr. Gallo restructured the cabin and a slew of others helped moved it into place.

“It started giving him purpose again,” Ms. LaRosa said.

Photo caption: Mike Twohig with Drummer Hoff, the tugboat he built, at its new home in front of Billy’s by the Bay in Greenport. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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