The Tugboat Jupiter, a true Philadelphian

Ralph Onesti
Favorite Spot: Tug Jupiter
Neighborhood: The Waterfront at Penns Landing
Address: Market Street at Delaware Avenue (NOT Columbus Blvd…I won’t give that up!)

I am: A piano rebuilder, technician and teacher. I have a shop in Delaware County. I taught Advanced Coastal Navigation among other courses for the US. Coast Guard Auxiliary and hold a 100 Ton Masters License. I was born in South Philadelphia (sout filly) on Mole & Dickenson just across the street from the famous Strolli’s bar in the building that housed the family pastry shop, and have a house on the 3100 block of S. Juniper.
Current Home: South Philly


My Love Note:

Dear Tug Jupiter:

I know, I know…they either don’t know about you, or worse, have forgotten you. How can that be at 101 feet long, 22 feet wide, and a mere 147 gross tons? How did they miss you?

Do you remember the first time Gretchen and I met you? It was a hot day in August in 2000. We were introduced to you by one of her crew. We climbed aboard to meet Captain McKinney who backed you out and handed your wheel over to me; “She’s all yours,” he said, not knowing just how close you and I would become.

While I was behind the wheel, out “tooling” around on the Delaware, my partner Gretchen, a chef, was below falling in love with you on quite another level. As she walked your decks, and inspected your galley, she dreamed of becoming your Steward…little did any of us know!

Meanwhile, back to the wheel house some thirty feet above the water line, I was in tug boat heaven. By the time we pulled back in and had her tied up, Gretchen and I had already, separately, made up our minds. We looked at each other and said, “Are you kidding me?!” And that was that.

Subsequently, I became your crew coordinator and crew trainer (Daddy) and Gretchen your ship’s Steward and Mission Coordinator (Mommy).

The city just doesn’t get you or what you do, or what you’re about, but you, Gretchen, the crew and I are about to change that, aren’t we old girl.

I say “old” affectionately. One of those things people don’t know about is your age. You probably don’t remember, but you were born just north of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge at a boat manufacturing company called Neafie & Levy. They made all sorts of boats over the years, but in 1902, they made you, named you after the then Standard Oil Company for which you were built, “Sacony 14,” hull number 961.

The Miley Tug Company bought you sometime later and you worked hard in the Philadelphia/Baltimore area. That’s when you received the big ‘M’ on your stack and your new name ‘Jupiter.’ You pulled materials for the Baltimore tunnel, you stretched submarine detection cables at the mouth of the Delaware Bay to ward off German subs during WW2, and you were the first tug to catch the lines of the Battleship New Jersey when she came out of the Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard, just to name a few accomplishments.

Then you went away, how sad. You wound up in Boston working the area and in the early 1980’s were about to be sold for scrap when your old owner, Mr. Ken Miley worked a deal to get you back. And now you’re back! Lucky Philadelphia!

Owned by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, you are cared for by the loving hands and hearts of your crew, a small but devoted group who keep you running to do what it is you do, now later in your life.

People don’t know all the missions you’ve accomplished: Festivals at Delaware City, the lead boat in the parade at the Baltimore Inner Harbor 300th anniversary — we made the national news that time didn’t we girl. We’ve had people get married on you, memorial services performed on your aft quarters, the lead tug in the parade at the decommissioning ceremony of the Savannah, the only US commercial nuclear powered vessel, the Parade of Lights at Penn’s Landing, and let’s not forget the famous Santa Runs. That’s when you, your crew, and the Seaman’s Church Institute of Philadelphia brought gifts to the crew aboard those monster ships that line the shores of the Delaware River. We made the national news on that one too. We also take out adolescent cancer victims for what may be their last ride. That one is tough on both of us isn’t it girlfriend.

Oh, and let’s not forget the kids! We had Sea Scouts on board for training and students from the Maritime Charter School. Eagle Scouts scraped your rust and painted your decks to get the merit badges and get to Eagle Scout. In Lewes Delaware you had 2000 visitors on your decks without so much as a scraped knee or a bumped head. That’s your crew, trained and qualified. People don’t know that when we’re not doing missions, we train. We do Person in the Water training, TCT (tactical coordination training), guest management, fire training, line handling, deck management, all while you work so hard turning that seven foot prop below the water line, never failing, never quitting, never tiring.

And I swear, coming home from a mission through the C&D canal, after working hard for four days, tired, your crew smiles. You can hear them say, “That was hard work, but boy did we have fun!” I think I’ve seen you smile once or twice myself when you thought I wasn’t looking.

You are a Philadelphia hull, born here, raised here, working here still. You my friend are a true Philadelphian.

So to you old girl I say, “I, no we, love you and promise that as long as we’re allowed to love and care for you, you will never be without friends.”

Like Peter and Tinkerbell — the kids know who you are — now let’s tell the adults!

I love you Jupiter,

Ralph-Onesti-Tugboat-Jupiter-5 Ralph-Onesti-Tugboat-Jupiter-4Ralph-Onesti-Tugboat-Jupiter-1 Ralph-Onesti-Tugboat-Jupiter-3 Ralph-Onesti-Tugboat-Jupiter-2Ralph-and-the-crew

Posted on by Emma Fried-Cassorla in Delaware River 14 Comments

14 Responses to The Tugboat Jupiter, a true Philadelphian

  1. Joe Sinagra

    I enoyed reading your tribute to “The Old Girl” I spent many a night in that galley hugging that old oil stove. Had a cold night when that little day tank in the head that feeds the stove got sloshed around on a rough night in January (5 deg f) out at the dumping grounds towing a mud scow. My girlfriend, now my wife of 30 years was onboard and still remembers me taking that stove carburator apart all night to clean the crap out while she sat at the galley table with a blanket wrapped around her. Former Eastern Towboat
    deckhand/engineer. Joe Sinagra

    • Tom McCall

      Thanks for posting. As a working mariner I can relate to situations as you described. Though, probably a good thing my future wife wasn’t around while trying to fix something and cussing like a sailor.
      Tom McCall

  2. Tom McCall

    Thank you for posting this wonderful story and saving a Philadelphia treasure. I plan to visit in the near future.
    A Working Mariner
    Capt Tom McCall (Miss. River currently)

  3. Megan

    Found this blog post as I was researching Strolli’s Restaurant online. I am related to the original owners. Would love to know if you have any stories or memories of the restaurant 🙂

    • Ralph ONesti

      I was born across the street from Strolli’S

  4. kamagra

    You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something that I think I would never
    understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me.

    I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get
    the hang of it!

  5. william conner

    Dear Ralph, I enjoyed reading your accounts of the Jupiter. My father was the captain of the Jup for 40 some years and i’ve sailed on her since i’ve been five years old. To me the most memorable day was when he docked the Britanina, Queen Elizabeth’s yatch , July 6th.,1976. I think it was his proudest moment. His name was Richard J.Conner. I think he would have loved to have been in the wheelhouse with you when you rung her up. I worked her deck and galley many years ago. Would love to exchange some tales about the Jupiter and her history if your interested. My first time aboard was 1948 and I still go down to see her sometimes. Thanks for the memories. Bill

  6. Ralph

    Hi kids…

    I am so happy you enjoyed my story.

    I tripped over it while showing someone pictures of Jupiter

    Alas and sadly, Gretchen and I are no longer aboard the old girl.

    Please remember Jupiter and if you have some time…get down there ad pitch in. Say bi to her for us.

    She can certainly use the TLC.

    All the best


  7. Ralph

    First of all…not “bi” but “hi”.

    Second, meagan…email me…we’ll talk “Strolli’s…

    Third…if you miss the jist of my story…it’s probablh because you have never been aboard the old gal. If it were possible…I would give you all a ride…a d let you drive. Then…you would get it!


  8. Ralph


    This isn’t really a presentation. This is a note telling everyone the “love” a person can have for a “non-person” thing as if it were a person…LOL

    Jupiter has been a passion for Gretchen and Me ever since we met her.

    She has been home to a loyal crew who cared about her and she took care of us as long as we took care of her.

    I guess to some it was no more than a hobby, and I suppose that can be true. To us, it was a hobby like your pet was a hobby, or your children are hobbies or your love is a hobby.

    Jupiter was and is and always will be special to us who “played” on her.

  9. Joseph Schilling

    I inherited a old model of the venus from my grandfather. It is motorized and in decent shape wondering if you guys could give me a appraisal on it. Thanks

  10. Dana Cooley

    Read all your cooments and felt the love. It is now Aoril 2018 and our girl is beginning to feel the weight of her years. If any of you are still interested, please email me at Thanks! Dana

  11. Garey Wheatley

    Fondly remembering:

    Bill Wheatley – Father

    Clarence Derrickson – Grandfather

    Independence Pier

  12. Regina Reynolds Booth

    My father worked for McCallister from the 1960’s til 1974. He was a engineer and I believe it was on the Juniper. My dad’s name was Ivor John Reynolds from Chester Pa. We always called in by phone to hear the orders of when his boat was leaving port. We always traveled with my mom to drop my father off to work. As small kids we called it bumpy to bump because of the tracks heading toward the port. There was a time children were allowed for a ride which I did but it was stopped due to liability. I remember being around 6 and waking up to us docking a huge ship. I was scared to death looking up at this massive cargo ship. So many funds memories.


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