Perry Ann Porter – Cotton 6, the Tugboat

Perry Ann Porter, 1960

This is the story of Cotton #6, a small tug built in 1916 by Port Townsend Cotton Ship Yard.  She had twin engines, 671 jimmies, was 46 feet long, with a beam of 13′ and  draft of 4′. Corporation: Perr Port, Inc., Bainbridge Island, WA.

Cotton 6 was the smallest of a fleet of tugs: Cotton #6, Cotton #8, and Cotton #10.  John Wayne purchased the tug to use  in a movie. His name was on the title. Cotton 6 had great portholes and looked proud. Someone left the head open and she sank. Hal Lawrence, from Port Townsend, bought and restored her. I purchased Cotton in 1976, while in the hospital with surgery on a destroyed ankle joint.

 I enjoyed Cotton for eight years. I moved her to Bainbridge Island to Russ Trask Ship Yard. I worked on her, cleaning the hull, doing rot work and filtering the bilge. I’d state a problem to the “water-front-boys” and they would put a huge tool in my hand and say, “Go fix it.”

With the help of my dad, Wayne Porter, we made my business into Perr Port, Inc., with my father’s design as my letterhead. I had to locate tug boat captains to work and then pay them. I would always get, “I ain’t never worked with no gal before!”

I was on crutches at the time – “my rehabilitation toy,” I called it. Cotton 6 even moved a house on a barge from the renovation of the Seattle Airport. I had to attend two different court hearings over Cotton 6, always winning. The first one was an oil slick spotted from the air going under Cotton’s hull in Port Towson. I was fined and had to prove it came from a boat two docks away and it did NOT come from my tug.  The second was the Seattle Airport move.  Guys took me to court because I did not pay them. However, I refused since they missed high tide, had to wait for six hours, then unload a house off a barge at night under glaring, blaring headlights – not a safe thing to do. I won, acting as my own attorney!

Cotton 6 was like a big-hole-in-the-water, taking my $$$$.

Jay, a fellow who was looking for a shallow draft tug to tow his barge, purchased Cotton.  He was designing a barge to transport materials for complete construction of houses and Cotton was just what he needed. He would haul all necessary equipment up to the San Juan Islands for folks to build homes. There are no cars on the island or big industry, so folks had to ship all they needed, usually in one trip. Folks would then build summer homes to visit. He was busy and owned Cotton 6 for five years. Then Jay sold her to a playboy, who changed her name, used her as a party boat,  and did not pay for her.  So Jay repossessed Cotton after a year and a half and restored her original name. I told him I was a detective and could have saved him a lot of $, if we had done a back ground check first….

I then lost track of Cotton 6, but later discovered her sitting in Gig Harbor, same red and black paint job with matching barge. Then she disappeared. 

 Russ Trask,  a water rascal friend with two different colored eyes,  told Ed, my former spouse,  that some “yo-yo” bought her, and that she was destroyed and found lying on her side in Purdey, Washington. Russ owned a ship yard on Bainbridge Island, where he kept many barges and tugs for bulkheads. Russ gave us scant directions to find the tug. This was in November, 2008.

 Ed and I took a day off, driving and getting lost, asking many questions if anyone knew of this small marina. About to give up, I saw some guys working on a boat on dry land. I stopped and asked if they knew of a sunken tug boat, and the guy said it was right next door. He seemed very upset and would not go to look with me. I hiked over and saw this mess. Then I saw someone ready to get into a truck. I yoo-hooed and he came over. We met the crazy Mr. Fred Jones, a retired shipbuilder and collector of tugs, who had owned Cotton 6 for three months.

Mr. Jones’ story was that he was bringing in another tug, The Torpedo, which had some engine problems and held him back. He brought it in at night on May 1st.  Coming in the dark, he was trying to slide Torpedo between Cotton and the Ibis (Russ’s old tug – I used to help with work – usually painting).  Mr. Jones explained that he was unaware of a gravel ridge off the starboard side of Cotton, and when he pulled the Torpedo in, the wake made Cotton fall over and the cabin just crumbled. According to Mr. Jones, the twin 671 jimmies had been removed and Cotton was now single screw. Jones was having to rebuild the cabin part and doing a poor job. He showed us his plans to restore Cotton and the huge high shelter he had built to work in. He had lumber and tools everywhere in his garage. 

When I went to get the car left in the next door driveway, the man who had directed me to the remains of Cotton 6 told me how the neighbors were very upset and how they heard the noise when this man destroyed Cotton. There was real sadness in their eyes and mine, too. This neighbor implied that Mr. Jones had been drinking and was going way too fast for the small inlet.  

We said our good-byes and said we would come back in a year to see how he was doing. Mr. Jones had quite a history about Cotton #6, but did not know the part when I owned her to complete the story. I had brought pictures with me to show when I had owned her, and he was quite surprised at the super condition she was in at the time. I have no idea who repainted her, which I do not like at all. Mr. Jones was quite a crazy talker and also quite a dreamer.

So the saga continues for this wonderful super tug boat that I once owned. A tug boat that looked like ‘Little Toot’ and became a true love affair, with tears, labor and laughter,  that engaged me with huge projects for eight years, keeping me healthy, happy and active!

                              Ode to “Whiskey Bravo”

                                Cotton 6/radio signal 

Editor’s Note:  Perry Ann would like to hear from you.  You can contact her at perryannp@yahoo.com.

1 Comment
  1. John Deardorff 1 month ago

    What an amazing and adventurous life you have had Perry. It makes most of our lives seem so boring and mundane.
    Please keep the stories coming .

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