Byline: Ambrosia Brody
NEWPORT BEACH — A piece of Newport Harbor’s maritime history cruised out of the harbor for the last time in October and headed to its final destination: the Long Beach Aquatics Center Sea Scout Base.
The historic Old No. 9 tugboat was led out of the harbor by the Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol and skippered by its restorer, John Matthews. After 65 years in Newport Harbor, Old No. 9 leaving its longtime home for a new berth in Long Beach.
The sendoff was bittersweet for Matthews, who had restored the locally beloved workboat to its former glory, with Robert Payon.
After several years of being passed from owner to owner, Old. No. 9 landed in the hands of Matthews in 1999. He began to restore the vessel for the Boy Scouts of America Newport Sea Base.
“It was kind of sad to see her go,” Matthews said. “We tried our best to keep her in the harbor, but the Sea Scouts decided she didn’t fit their program.
In 2011, Matthews and Payon were asked to find another home for the vessel.
“After careful consideration, the Newport Sea Base Committee decided it was time to find another suitable home in Newport Harbor for the vessel,” explained Shana Bannert Aguirre, director of Newport Sea Base. “In an effort to find a good home for Old No. 9, our volunteer, John Matthews, connected us with the Long Beach Sea Base.”
Although Matthews felt a mix of emotions as he took Old No. 9 out of the harbor, he is enthusiastic about the vessel’s new role at the Long Beach Aquatics Center Sea Scout Base.
“I’m excited about getting her up to Long Beach, where they can use her,” he said.
John Fullerton, Long Beach Sea Base executive, welcomed Old No. 9 without hesitation.
“It offers a unique opportunity,” Fullerton said. “We may look at starting a maritime safety education post, or start talking about boating safety and maritime history.”
Matthews said he is glad that another sea base acquired the vessel, as the countless hours he spent working on the boat were “payback” that he felt he owed to the scouts, after all the time his children spent at the base learning how to sail. And the many times Old No. 9 towed Matthews in to the harbor, he added.
Matthews spent more than seven years working on the boat. On Jan. 14, 2010, the harbor’s first fireboat hit the water after years of sitting in drydock, and it was handed to the Boy Scouts of America Newport Sea Base.
The former workboat was built for the Navy in 1941 by Higgins Boat Works and was obtained by the Harbor Patrol in 1947. It was revamped to become Newport Harbor’s first fireboat.
The department added a house, bridge and water pumps in the 1960s. The vessel was decommissioned in the late 1970s, and it was purchased by local yacht broker Ed Richardson.
The tug had a variety of other owners through the years, and the vessel was eventually donated to the Sea Scouts.