HUDSON RIVER — They're looming, they're loud, yet somehow they rope in a dedicated following, and leave fans grinning in their wake.
Tugboats may be less obvious in the Hudson River these days than cruise ships, but the Great North River Tugboat Race drew out crowds of their loyal fans.
Now in its 20th year, the tugboat race, which starts at West 79th Street and ends at Pier 84 (near West 43rd Street) brings out the hearty watercraft to show their stuff in a Hudson River race, nose-to-nose pushing contest, and parade.
Kenny McCoy, a volunteer for the USS Lilac Steamship, a preserved ship at Pier 2, said he and his wife Lynn came as fans. "We came down from the Bronx to cheer on the Bronx's tugboat. This is a great and unique event," he said.
Another spectator, Mike Fitz, said he and a friend drove from Westfield, N.J. to watch the races.
"We saw an ad for it," he explained. "I'm shocked at how big the tugboats are up close — they always look so small on the water."
Spectators ready to break out the wallets for an even closer view could ride along during the race and buy tickets for a seat in a touring boat. Following the awards, landlubbers could show their stuff in a knot-tying demonstration, or spinach-eating competition as a tribute to Popeye.
Major Phillips, a deck hand on the Megan Ann, from Stella, N.C., said his boat came in second in the races. "It's great fun," he said. "It's a great time to mingle with others and not work so hard."
Scott Koer, captain of the Lt. Michael Murphy, said it was the third time he'd raced in the tugboat summit. "We came in second to last," he said. "The first two we came in last, so that's progress."
His boat was named in honor of a Long Island native, Navy Seal Lt. Michael Murphy, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005.
The boat helped rescue passengers off US Airways Flight 1549, or the "Miracle on the Hudson" plane that landed in the Hudson River in 2009 after its engines were taken out by a flock of geese, he said.
"There are many ways to serve, and this is mine," Koer said.