Tug Pudding or Buffalo Head?
A Page In the Helen M Story
Boats are a fixture of island life. A passion for open water, fishing, sea life, water sports, and nautical crafts attracts a mixture of fascinating life stories here on Westport. Bruce Whittemore, a neighbor and retired Wakefield, MA, fire fighter, is right up there on the “check it out” meter. Although he did not grow up on an island or around boats, he is a woodcraftsman, who decided 20+ years ago that it would be cool to build a tugboat, so he could cruise with his family during summer vacations on Lake Winnipesaukee.
Although the children are now grown and gone, the boat is still a family mission. Bruce and Suzi retired to Westport where they now have more time to pursue their crafting passions, one of which is the tugboat “Helen M.” My husband, Roger, has joined the mission, contributing electrical and problem-solving skills, as well as some assistance with the heavy lifting. Between family and friends, Bruce’s mission to hit the water with the Helen M will be accomplished this summer.
With this in mind, Roger decided the Helen M needed, what he initially believed to be, a “tug pudding.” Contrary to what a friend speculated, a tug pudding is not an edible made with “scrap fish” or “marine grade oily residue.” A tug pudding, also called a bow mustache, is a large, manila rope fender to protect the tug’s bow.
With some internet research, Roger found Barbara Merry at Marlin Spike Artist and commissioned what turned out to be a “collision mat” aka buffalo head — unique to tug boats — which protects the tug’s bow fender or its pudding from wear and tear with the many work missions of a tug.
Barbara Merry is a rope artisan in Wakefield, Rhode Island, who makes nautical puddings and collision mats by hand. She grew up in Newport, CA, around her dad’s wholesale import-export marine hardware business. Through her dad’s business, Barbara became interested in marine knotting. Initially, she focused on macramé, and developed a small crafts business. When macramé went out of vogue, she tried her hand at other fiber arts, but returned to her passion for knotting. Barbara tried to support herself making fishing nets in New Bedford, MA, but soon turned to “splicing,” the art of joining line. Perfecting splicing, because of its specialized applications, is what made her passion a self-supporting avocation.
Barbara Merry has written “The Splicing Handbook,” a reference primer on marine rope splicing. She has taught at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine; at the Northeast Maritime Institute — and she may visit Westport Island this summer during the Rockland Boat Show to view her most recent buffalo head decked on the honorable Helen M.
See the handover from Barbara to Roger preceding the buffalo head’s transport to Westport Island, and the presentation to the Helen M’s Captain and First Mate, Bruce and Suzi Whittemore: