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We need your help. We need to raise $150,000 to finish Bertha or she will be cut up for scrap metal on November 1, 2013.
Darren Vigilant
Jersey City, New Jersey
United States
1 Team Member

Historic Vessel or Scrap Metal?

In over two self-funded phases of restoration, Darren Vigilant has replaced 10 tons of steel, installed 18,000 new rivets, added new design features, and reinstated historic integrity.  

Now, with only months left of work to do, the clock has run out.  We need your help. We need to raise $150k to finish her or Bertha will be cut up for scrap metal on November 1, 2013.  

Why help save Bertha? Because of her pedigree, lines, historic significance, and so she can again contribute to the diverse and important maritime history in New York and New Jersey.  As a notable and historic vessel, she will continue to build community and participate in historic vessel events, she will bring the extraordinary history of the waterways of New York and New Jersey to life for the community, and she will raise awareness of the importance of traditional boat construction.

Bertha: an overland timber tug!

Bertha is a 1925 tug built in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. The same town that is known for its Newcastle beer was, at one time, a prime manufacturing location of W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd’s shipbuilding operations, and where the unique and beautiful timber tug Bertha was built.

Unlike other timber tugs, Bertha was built with a flat bottom and was fitted with winches so she could haul herself overland.  She was one of only four tugs (all named after 4 sisters) built in this style that traveled to Newfoundland, Canada to work and was the only one that was shipped to the East Coast of Canada completely assembled. With stunning lines and 80 feet of tough riveted steel construction, she remained a working tug in Newfoundland for decades sending lumber back to the UK.

Bertha as the working tug "Deer Lake"

Her name was changed from Bertha to Deer Lake in 1949 when Newfoundland joined Canada. After this period, she was used for a variety of different purposes including building wharves and was even known to have hosted a play. She was then left on a beach, with a large hole in her side. Some time later, she was rescued and taken to Toronto where she worked as an excursion vessel and was again left leaking and sinking into the mud in Lake Erie.

In 1996, she was bought by Wally Pennell.  He had known the boat growing up in Deer Lake and long admired her.  Wally made some repairs to the tugboat and then brought Deer Lake back to Newfoundland where she participated in coastal celebrations for the 500-year anniversary of John Cabot’s arrival in Newfoundland.  With significant expense and upkeep, Wally decided to sell the boat. 

In 1999, Darren Vigilant, an industrial designer and metal fabricator from New York City, found and fell in love with the tug's pedigree, lines, and capability.  He purchased her and brought Bertha from Saint John's, Newfoundland to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, where he self-funded the first stage of restoration.

Bertha spent 6 months at the Lunenburg Industrial Foundry and Engineering Limited shipyard.  During this time, Darren replaced over 10 tons of steel below the rub rail, resurfaced the steel hull, and cast 2 new bronze propellers.  The stern deck was redesigned to maintain an uninterrupted deck surface, and finally modifications were made to the steering gear to prepare for the journey to her new home in New York City.

For four years, Bertha was docked at Pier 63 in the company of Tug Pegasus, The Lightship Frying Pan, and The John J. Harvey fireboat, and was an active participant in the lively waterfront community of lower Manhattan. During this time, she sailed over 100 trips around NYC, participated as a rescue boat during 9/11 rescue efforts (tender to Tugboat Bertha), traveled the Hudson River to Catskill, and down river to the Jersey shore several times. 

Bertha in New York Harbour

Bertha alongside

In 2003, Darren sailed Bertha to Tottenville shipyard in Staten Island, New York, to start her second self-funded stage of restoration. 


Over two self-funded restorations, Darren completed extensive work on Bertha.  Rotten steel was gutted and replaced, new design features were added, and historic integrity was reinstated to the deck house and pilot house.  The complete list includes:

  • Over 10 tons of new steel was installed above and below the water line including the bulwarks, rub rails, and decks;
  • The hull was resurfaced;
  • The stern deck was redesigned to maintain and uninterrupted deck surface;
  • The steering gear was modified to prepare for the journey to New York;
  • 2 new bronze propellers were cast and installed;
  • 18,000 rivets were replaced using traditional techniques;
  • The steering gear was repositioned under the new stern deck;
  • The old deck house was removed and replaced with a new one built with historic integrity;
  • A new pilot house was constructed from 5000 series marine grade aluminum; and
  • A new steel channel was added to the hull to circulate sea water for engine cooling.

Bertha's deconstruction with deck house mostly removed. 

Darren making design notes on the fly.

Overview of reconstruction: decks, rails, and deckhouse.

Bertha now ready for sandblasting and painting

Historic artifact and work of art: Bertha's craftsmanship, lines, and attention to detail 

One beautiful aspect of Bertha is her compound curves including her camber (the curve of the boat from port to starboard) and her sheer (the curve of the boat from bow to stern) lines.  The sheer can bee seen as you look along the lines of rivets.  

Darren, Tom Ryan (a traditionally trained blacksmith), and a team of workers and volunteers riveted the entire vessel to make sure Bertha’s rare riveted construction was maintained.  Using traditional methods and a 1906 rivet gun, 18,000 rivets were installed to hold her 100 tons of steel together.  Each rivet required three people to install and 400 rivets could be installed in one day.  During this time, riveting demonstrations were provided to the public including visits from the Society of Industrial Technology Roebling Chapter.

Heating a rivet before installation

Darren riveting

Rivets numbered in a row: 18,000 were installed in total. 

In replacing the old deckhouse, Darren saw an opportunity to create beautiful steel archways inside Bertha's new deckhouse.  The archways serve three important purposes: to provide lateral support to the deck house and pilot house, to create an interior space with open vistas (boat interiors traditionally use supporting walls or bulkheads that result in cut-up interior spaces and blocked views), and to provide channels for Bertha's engine exhaust and air intake.  With Bertha’s archway design, it was possible to preserve an amazing view over the sheer of the boat - from the bow of the deck house, through both arches, across 25 feet of stern deck, and to the water in the distance. 

Intricate, new steel archways now adorn the deck house.

Incredible craftsmanship can be seen in every detail.

In addition, the pilot house was replaced with a historic, riveted aluminum version.The two-tier aluminum pilot house features an unobstructed view via back and side windows, the best materials (5000 series marine grade aluminum and custom made half round), and top craftsmanship. Other design features include decorative bulwark struts and a cantilevered roof deck.

Pilot house

What we need

We need to raise $150,000 to finish her or Bertha will be cut up for scrap metal on November 1, 2013.  

With hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in the tugboat already and much of the original vessel rebuilt, Darren's dream is within reach.  He has already purchased all the teak, walnut, mahogany, and oak to finish the interior of the tug and all the bronze sheet metal needed for the underside of the cantilevered upper deck!

The remaining task list is finite and includes:

  1. Steel along the centre bottom of her keel must be replaced ($50k).
  2. The hull needs to be sandblasted and painted with a two part epoxy paint to protect all her steel, old and new. This step will remove the surface rust that can be seen now, it will bring the vessel down to clear, rust-free steel, and then painted which will protect the boat for years and years to come.  ($50k)
  3. Her engines, shafts, propellers, and rudders need to be repaired and reinstalled ($30k).
  4. She needs zink anodes need be added to her hull for corrosion protection and other final work to prepare her for launch.  ($20k)

How you can help:

  1. Pledge money in return for rewards;
  2. Visit our other sites; and
  3. Help us get the word out and share our story!  



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raised in 1 month
7% funded
No time left
$150,000 USD goal
Fixed Funding This campaign did not meet its $150,000USD funding goal by the deadline.
Campaign Closed
This campaign ended on October 31, 2013
Select a Perk
  • $30USD
    Bertha Custom Keychain

    Pledge $25 or more and you will receive a custom brass oval keychain hand stamped with Tugboat Bertha's logo on one side.

    8 claimed
    Estimated delivery: December 2013
  • $85USD
    Bertha T-Shirt and Keychain

    Pledge $80 or more and you will receive a quality cotton t-shirt with Tugboat Bertha logo along with custom brass oval keychain hand stamped with Bertha's logo on one side.

    8 claimed
    Estimated delivery: December 2013
  • $1,000USD
    Trip, Plaque, Shirt, Keychain

    Pledge $1,000 or more and you and guest will be invited on an inaugural tour on Bertha. Also, your name will be engraved on a decorative cast bronze plaque created by Darren. The plaque will be mounted on the outside of the deck house. You will also receive a Bertha keychain and t-shirt.

    2 claimed
    Estimated delivery: July 2015
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