Bay-Houston Towing adds right-sized tugboat to growing Texas fleet

The 4,426-hp Eden K goes through the motions near the Port of Galveston.
The 4,426-hp Eden K goes through the motions near the Port of Galveston.
The 4,426-hp Eden K goes through the motions near the Port of Galveston.

Eden k
| Bay-Houston Towing, Houston, Texas

Bay-Houston Towing has completed a versatile tugboat series designed to handle ships within the Houston Ship Channel.

The 4,426-hp Eden K is the third tugboat in the series of RApport 2600 tugboats designed by Robert Allan Ltd. and built by Master Boat Builders. The 85-by-38.5-foot Eden K delivers 54 metric tons of bollard pull and can hit speeds exceeding 12 knots.

RApport 2600 tugboats are characterized by their light displacement and smooth application of power, according to Kevin Lenz, vice president of Bay-Houston Towing. They’re also a tacit acknowledgement that bigger isn’t always better.

“We recognize a large majority of customers utilize smaller-tonnage ships that do not necessarily need 7,000 horsepower and 85 metric tons of bollard pull,” Lenz said. “So, we set out to build a tug that is cost effective, emission-friendly, highly maneuverable and has large cross-utilization capability from a ship and dock compatibility perspective.”

Bay-Houston Towing traces its history to the late 1800s when Capt. William Douglas Haden acquired a steam tugboat to assist vessels in Galveston Bay’s shallow waters. These days, the company and its subsidiary, Bay Towing, operate a fleet of more than 30 tugboats working from Lake Charles, La., to Corpus Christi, Texas, and the entire length of the 52-mile Houston Ship Channel. The fleet expanded in late 2023 with the acquisition of Seabulk Towing operations in Lake Charles and Port Arthur, Texas, which are now named and operating as Bay Towing. 

The crew of Bay-Houston Towing’s tugboat Eden K are, from left, engineer Charles Hardt, mate Daniel Pruitt, Capt. Raymond Bynum and wiper Austin Guerra.
The crew of Bay-Houston Towing’s tugboat Eden K are, from left, engineer Charles Hardt, mate Daniel Pruitt, Capt. Raymond Bynum and wiper Austin Guerra.

Over the last decade, the Houston-based company has built 13 tugboats, nine of which meet EPA Tier 4 emissions standards and carry a Low Emission Vessel notation from ABS. Eden K and its sister tugs are a continuation of the fleet renewal efforts that began in the 2010s.

The older tonnage replaced by the RApport 2600-series tugs had engines built before EPA tiered emission standards took effect. Those tugs were placed into backup status within the fleet and, in some cases, scrapped altogether as the newer, cleaner-running vessels entered service.

Planning for the RApport 2600-series tugboats began years ago, as deliveries of the company’s larger Z-Tech 30-80 tractor tug series started to wind down. Those vessels are 30 meters long (98 feet) and deliver more than 80 metric tons of bollard pull, hence the name. These brawny characteristics are tremendously valuable during ship escorts and indirect towing maneuvers with tankers and large container ships. 

The Z-Tech 30-80 tugs are bigger, deeper and more powerful than Eden K and its sister tugs. The RApport 2600 tugs are rightsized to assist ships into and out of slips within the Houston channel that require highly technical maneuvers during approach and departure.

“I would characterize this particular project as a refresh,” Lenz said. “The project is an opportunity to replace legacy tugs in the fleet and respond to industry demand for clean and sustainable operations while bolstering fleet utilization due to the characteristics of these boats.”

The RApport 2600 series proved the right tugboat for the job. These tugs represent an updated version of the RApport series developed by Robert Allan Ltd. of Vancouver, B.C., more than 30 years ago. Early tugs built to this design were some of the first azimuthing stern drive (ASD) tugboats operating in North America.

“There is no escort notation on this design. However, the boat is designed to have superior ship-assist ability with specially designed hull form and arrangement,” said Xuhui Hu, a project director with Robert Allan Ltd.

The compact design makes it particularly suitable for ship-assist work in narrow channels and those with shallower depths. Its maximum draft, for instance, is just 14 feet, 3 inches. Hu said the team paid special attention to the appearance of the tugboats and cited the stylized deckhouse as an example.

One of two Schottel z-drive thrusters.
One of two Schottel z-drive thrusters.

These tugs feature a step on the aft deck to provide additional headroom in the z-drive compartment. The short skeg makes for quick, responsive handling, and the twin 12-cylinder Caterpillar engines and Schottel z-drives provide plenty of power and agility.

“The hull form is very slippery and can move laterally easily, allowing her to get into and maintain optimal thrust vectors,” Lenz explained. “In addition, she has a low profile due to her low-slung house and set-back wheelhouse. She can safely work in areas outside the parallel midbody of most ships, giving her an applied power advantage by being ‘on the ends.’”

The wheelhouse on Eden K and its sister tugs Hayden Grace and Leighton K is relatively low and set back by design. Positioning the house this way reduces the chance the vessels will contact a ship, particularly when working in the aggressive counters and flares now common on modern eco-designed ships, Lenz added.

Capt. Raymond Bynum speaks highly of the tug’s handling and performance.
Capt. Raymond Bynum speaks highly of the tug’s handling and performance.

Eden K entered service in late 2023 and primarily works around Houston. The tug was some 50 miles away in Galveston on a sunny mid-April morning. Capt. Raymond Bynum, joined by his three fellow crewmembers, spoke highly of the vessel and its performance and outfitting.

“It handles great,” Bynum said. “It does not have a big skeg, so it glides through the water.”

Bay-Houston has standardized key aspects of its interior designs in recent years, including the wheelhouse and operator controls. The crew spaces are largely the same across the fleet, simplifying crew movement between vessels. Eden K builds on the successes from past tugboat series, and Bay-Houston considered crew feedback when outfitting the newest tugboat series.

One such improvement is the wheelhouse window placement. Eden K and the other two RApport 2600-series tugs have minimal obstructions and 360-degree views. Older tugs in the fleet, meanwhile, have a pillar roughly parallel to the operator’s line of sight to port and starboard.

The emphasis on sound and vibration damping was another high point on the new series. One example is the resilient mounting on the auxiliary engines. Another was the ample use of sound-deadening insulation within the crew spaces. Crewmembers who sleep below the Markey DEPCF-48 electric winch on the bow say it is even quiet enough to sleep during complex towing evolutions.

Other crew-friendly features include independent temperature zones within the tugboat and four staterooms for a crew of four people, allowing each person to have their own room. Each room shares a full bathroom and shower with the adjacent room. 

“It is extremely quiet,” Bynum said. “We could be working full ahead and have a conversation in the wheelhouse without someone raising their voice. And when Daniel is driving, I sleep peacefully.”

Daniel, in this case, is Daniel Pruitt, the mate on Eden K. Charles Hardt is engineer and Austin Guerra is the wiper. Hardt and Guerra praised the spacious engine room that provides ready access to different components.

Engineer Charles Hardt and wiper Austin Guerra pause alongside a Caterpillar 3512E main engine.
Engineer Charles Hardt and wiper Austin Guerra pause alongside a Caterpillar 3512E main engine.

The propulsion package on Eden K and its sister tugs comes from two 2,213-hp Cat 3512E engines paired with Schottel SRP 430 z-drives. Two John Deere four-cylinder engines drive 99-kW generators for electrical power. The Markey bow winch has Render/Recover capabilities for steady tension on the towline, and the wheelhouse is equipped with modern Furuno navigation electronics and Icom VHF radios.

These tugs will not be the newest in the Bay-Houston fleet for long. The company expects to take delivery of another Z-Tech 30-80 tugboat from Master Boat Builders in summer 2024. And in late 2025, the first of two Robert Allan Ltd. RAstar 3200-W vessels will be delivered from Sterling Shipyard in Port Neches, Texas.

The RAstar tugs will have 8,800 hp and deliver more than 105 metric tons of bollard pull. With their considerable power and enhanced seakeeping design, they will be focused on servicing the largest ships in a broad range of environmental conditions, Lenz said.

In the meantime, however, the newest Bay-Houston tugs are keeping busy and performing admirably in and around Houston.