Maryland agency updates proven buoy tender platform for the modern era
For the past 50 years, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has used the World War II-era buoy tender J. Millard Tawes to mark waterways and occasionally break ice along the state’s Eastern Shore.
Eddie Somers arrived in Crisfield, Md., this spring to replace that historic workhorse. Blount Boats built the 94-by-27-foot steel monohull using a design from BMT Designers & Planners. Boksa Marine performed computer numerical control (CNC) lofting in support of the design.
The new ship builds on the best attributes of Tawes while adding innovation that improves safety and efficiency. Upgrades include a Wesmar bow thruster, improved working deck and engine room layout, and vinyl-coated aluminum wheelhouse to reduce maintenance.
In a throwback to a different shipbuilding era, Eddie Somers is equipped with spuds on the port and starboard sides made of greenheart. Spuds made from the South American hardwood have served Tawes well for generations.
“We tried to design this boat pretty much with the Tawes in mind,” said Capt. Lee Daniels. “That was a great workboat, so a lot of the great things from the Tawes we put over here into this boat.”
J. Millard Tawes was built in 1943 as USCGC Barberry, and the vessel tended buoys in North Carolina and Virginia for almost 30 years. Maryland’s DNR acquired the vessel in 1972 and renamed it for a Crisfield, Md., politician who served as governor and later as the first leader of the newly formed DNR agency.
Maintenance and repair needs have started to catch up to the almost 80-year-old Tawes, according to John Gallagher, director of hydrographic operations for the DNR, who led planning and outfitting for the new boat. The state is planning to sell Tawes soon.
Eddie Somers is named for a longtime DNR captain who retired in 2018. Over the summer, the boat traveled a vast swath of Chesapeake Bay and Tangier Sound in support of buoy and sign replacement on the state’s waterways. The state maintains more than 3,500 buoys, of which about 500 are located within Eddie Somers’ territory.
“Our area is from the Patuxent River, which is about a four-hour sail, and then down to the Maryland-Virginia line,” Daniels said. “Our day trips can take anywhere from two to six hours to get to the job location.”
“We are marking speed limit zones, oyster sanctuaries, crab lines, state lines,” he continued. “I tell people it’s kind of like the state highway department. They put the signs along the road. We put the signs along the water.”
Every buoy in state waters is exchanged once a year for a fresh one, Daniels said. Otherwise, marine growth can weigh them down and chains can corrode, limiting their effectiveness or reducing visibility.
Eddie Somers is 3 feet wider than Tawes, creating more space on the foredeck for buoy handling.
Although its maximum speed is only around 12 knots, Eddie Somers is maneuverable and relatively nimble — which comes in handy when positioning the vessel alongside a buoy. The tender also has a very shallow draft, allowing it to work in as little as 5 feet of water.
DNR crews will lower the steel-encased greenheart spuds when working in depths less than 20 feet for added stability. Greenheart is rot- and insect-resistant. It’s strong and durable but also flexible.
“This is probably the first time greenheart spuds have been used in a while,” Gallagher said. “They’ll bend but they will also come back.”
The Melcal crane installed along the centerline on the foredeck is another improvement over Tawes. The crane can extend 40 feet, offering greater reach over the side than its predecessor, and can lift 2,090 pounds at full reach. Its lifting capacity is 6,410 pounds at 15 feet of reach, and its winch has a line pull of 2.65 to 3 metric tons. The unit can be operated remotely using a belt pack control system.
Advance Marine of Wilmington, Del., also supplied the Melcal winches that raise and lower Eddie Somers’ greenheart spuds and the hydraulic power unit that drives the crane and winches. The company delivered another Melcal crane for the DNR vessel Sandusky in 2014, giving the crew confidence in the unit on Eddie Somers.
Although it doesn’t happen every year, Chesapeake Bay and Tangier Sound can freeze during winter cold snaps. Eddie Somers was built with 9/16-inch steel at the bow to crush through ice up to 20 inches thick, and 3/8-inch steel along the waterline.
Winter ice is relatively uncommon, but it can have a significant impact on Smith Island, a historic crabbing community, and Tangier Island farther south in Chesapeake Bay within Virginia waters. Eddie Somers can be used to break a path for boats that supply the islands, and in the case of Smith Island, for the ferries that bring students to and from school each day.
Eddie Somers’ deckhouse was designed with crew comfort in mind. The main deck has an open-concept galley and lounge area, with four cabins for the boat’s six crewmembers. There are two heads, one of which has a shower. There are Fujitsu HVAC systems in the wheelhouse and crew spaces, and the vessel also has a 160,000-BTU boiler for extra heat during the long winter months.
Stairs at the forward end lead down to the mechanical space overseen by engineer Edward Long. The space is bright and open, with walkways on either side leading to the different compartments and plenty of room to access important systems.
“It’s nice to be able to get around the motors,” said Long, adding that the design lets him “walk through the boat from the front to the back.”
“She has so many more alarm systems, too,” Long said of the EMI alarm package. “She tells you when she is having a problem.”
Fire suppression in the engine space comes from a fixed CO2 system, and above-deck firefighting is made possible by a Flomax 8 pump. Fireboy-Xintex supplied the fire detection system.
The main propulsion package consists of twin Cummins QSK19 engines generating 750 hp each. They turn 42-inch, five-blade Michigan Wheel propellers through Twin Disc reduction gears. Electrical power comes from two Cummins Onan 55-kW generators. Jastram supplied the steering package.
The engines are cooled by old-fashioned channel coolers built onto the port and starboard sides, while the two Cummins gensets are paired with Weka box coolers supplied by R.W. Fernstrum & Co.
“It turns sharp. It’s a good steering vessel and it takes the sea well if you are in any wind. And it handles well,” Daniels said, adding that the 75-hp Wesmar bow thruster helps with maneuvering at the dock or the buoy site.
The wheelhouse, one level above the main deck, is outfitted with a Furuno navigation suite that includes radar, AIS, GPS and sonar. Furuno also supplied the VHF radios. Crews use David Clark headsets for wireless communication while underway.
Eddie Somers’ steel hull is coated with International paints. Its aluminum deckhouse, however, is wrapped in vinyl that is intended to wear differently than traditional marine coatings. When it starts showing its age, Gallagher said, the wrap can be removed and replaced without the need for costly and labor-intensive paint removal.
Maryland’s DNR and Blount Boats reached agreement on Eddie Somers during a time of great uncertainty, roughly two months after the Covid-19 pandemic started. Key components and parts arrived at Blount’s Warren, R.I., shipyard well before ongoing supply chain challenges started in earnest.
Bob Pelletier, vice president of Blount Boats, said navigating the pandemic and the changing protocols and travel requirements was a continuous challenge. BMT Designers’ bankruptcy and liquidation midway through construction was another hurdle. Pelletier said Dina Kowalyshyn, principal naval architect from Gryphon Technologies and the owner’s representative, saw the project to fruition along with Christopher Melo, Blount’s local naval architect.
Blount built the vessel without a single change order, and Gallagher recalled how the yard successfully navigated small challenges that arose during construction. In some cases, Blount adapted the plans in ways that made for a better vessel.
“I am convinced it would have been a lot more expensive today,” Gallagher said of the project. “Blount exceeded my expectations with the boat. … I think all of their changes were beneficial.” •