ON THE SCREEN Blogs that cover niche topics usually appeal to niche audiences. In this city, where there are more bloggers per square mile than perhaps anywhere else in the world, highly specialized blogs create zealously exclusive communities around topics as diverse as cupcakes (Cupcakes Take the Cake) and fixed-gear bicycle freestyling (Prolly Is Not Probably).
Tugster, a blog by Will Van Dorp covering the city’s harbor through daily, photograph-filled posts, seems at first to be a narrow alcove geared toward seafaring captains or tugboat aficionados. Yet Mr. Van Dorp, who began Tugster in 2006 as a “working water vessel ethnology,” has attracted a broad audience. Professional mariners and landlocked lawyers alike, he said, are drawn in by his enthusiasm for “the sixth borough,” his nickname for New York’s waterways.
Part of Tugster’s appeal is the varied tone and focus of Mr. Van Dorp’s posts. “Some are technical, some are historical, some are whimsical, some provide a journey,” he said. “I like to think I can draw the whimsy-focused people in to the technical parts of the harbor and vice versa.” On a given week, visitors might encounter a poetic ode to a favorite tug named Alice; a photo-identification challenge called “Whatzit?”; and detailed primers on ship hulls or ice-breaking.
Whatever he posts, Mr. Van Dorp prioritizes interaction with his audience. He frequently replies on comment threads and highlights readers’ experiences and observations. Photographs of “things I or others don’t understand,” for example, quickly receive a crowd-sourced explanation. That, he said, is what makes Tugster a real New York blog. “We like to learn and get things right,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re an expert or a novice; that’s the magic of the Internet.”
BEHIND THE SCREEN Mr. Van Dorp, 59, who described himself as “the Jane Goodall of tugboats,” said he was born into his love for New York Harbor. His parents, Dutch immigrants, came over on a ship from Rotterdam to Hoboken in 1949 and often recounted to him their exhilarating first glimpse of Lady Liberty.
Though he was reluctant to start a blog — “too navel-gazing” — Mr. Van Dorp realized its potential for sharing his hobby. His first post profiled a freighter that delivered loads of crushed stone into Brooklyn. Stalking it like a paparazzo, he felt a rush. “It was just, ‘Wow,’ ” he said. “Like I was waiting for a lover.” A second rush came when he discovered that others could relate to his quest.
Mr. Van Dorp sometimes accepts invitations from readers to join them on tours of ports outside New York, but his main “offices” are the spots he frequents with his point-and-shoot camera on the way from his home in Kew Gardens, Queens, to work at Union County College in New Jersey, where he teaches English. Among the locales are the parking lot at the St. George Ferry Terminal, the area near a salt pile in Richmond Terrace, both on Staten Island, and Arthur Kill Park in Elizabeth, N.J.
Considering the mission of his blog, Mr. Van Dorp says he wants to show people the vital role the harbor plays in city life. He contends that this sixth borough needs “a borough president, a borough historian and a borough blogger” — as if it didn’t already have all three.
This post is part of an occasional series profiling New York Web sites and blogs. Have a profile suggestion? E-mail [email protected].