Indiana helps build new traditions for Great Lakes Towing Co.
In a world that has become increasingly complicated, simple is often better.
That’s the concept that influenced the design and development of the 2,000-hp Indiana, the seventh in a series of 10 Cleveland-class tugboats being built by Great Lakes Shipyard for its parent company, The Great Lakes Towing Co.
“This tug is a great, modern version of the tugs we have been running forever on the Great Lakes,” Joe Starck, president of Great Lakes Towing, said in a recent interview.
“Arguably the best feature is the visibility,” he continued. “There are no obstructions that might prevent the captain from seeing the deck hand working on the deck. That is probably the key thing. But they are also more fuel-efficient (than the older tugs) and less costly to maintain.”
The 64-by-23-foot Indiana features the same MTU main engines as its predecessors — and it will be the last in the fleet to utilize them. The three remaining tugs in the series will have Cummins engines, a change Starck attributed to engine price and availability.
Great Lakes Towing now operates a fleet of about 40 tugboats spread across 13 ports from Buffalo, N.Y., to Duluth, Minn. Its fleet is still anchored by about 25 historic G-class tugs that, in some cases, date back more than 100 years.
Great Lakes Towing retired more than 10 of these legacy tugs in recent years as its Cleveland-class tugs entered service. As of this spring, the 97-year-old Virginia is undergoing dismantling at the Cleveland shipyard.
For much of the Cleveland-class project, the company has scrapped two G tugs for each new tug that entered service. Starck said the company can’t remove any additional tugs from the fleet without impacting service at Green Bay, Wis., and other low-volume ports.
“Those (G tugs) are paid for 10 times over, but they are becoming more expensive to maintain. And, they still work,” he added. “We are running out of tugs to remove from service. We can’t continue to retire two ‘G’-tugs for each new tug — there are just not enough tugs in the system.”
Tugs in the new series are built to the Damen Stan 1907 ICE platform. They are nimble enough to perform ship-assist work in tight quarters like the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland or Chicago’s Calumet River. The tugs have ice-classed hulls, making them sturdy enough to break ice during the winter months.
Great Lakes Towing Co. tugs handle a wide range of vessels during the roughly nine-month towing season. That includes the occasional U.S.- or Canada-flagged self-unloading Lakers, as well as the foreign-flagged oceangoing ships known as Salties that call at Great Lakes ports. Articulated tug-barge (ATB) units and traditional barge units also require assist tugs in some ports.
The Cleveland-class tugs are generally stationed at high-volume Great Lakes ports such as Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio.
Capt. Jeff Stabler, Great Lakes Towing’s fleet captain, described the Cleveland-class vessels as versatile, powerful for their size and plenty maneuverable despite their conventional drivetrains.
“It’s not a z-drive boat. But it is incredibly close,” Stabler said recently. “It is phenomenal how she moves. If you want me to spin on a dime in these boats, I can do it.”
“The pilots love them,” he said of Indiana and its sister tugs. “And they trust them.”
Indiana has a top speed of about 10.5 knots with a powertrain that consists of two 1,000-hp MTU mains paired with Twin Disc reduction gears turning 71-inch propellers in nozzles. The bollard pull rating is 30 tons.
Electrical power on Indiana comes from a pair of Kohler 99-kW gensets rather than the John Deere units on Illinois and others in the series. Challenges acquiring John Deere engines during the ongoing supply-chain challenges were a big factor in the decision to change vendors.
Still, the company is happy with the Kohler units and expects they will perform admirably.
Indiana features a split-level design that maximizes space within the deckhouse. From the aft deck, you can walk up into the wheelhouse or down into the crew lounge, berthing area and engine room.
The wheelhouse has a workstation for the captain and crew aft, as well as a custom steering station designed with input from Capt. Stabler and other Great Lakes’ tugboat masters. The layout is reminiscent of a z-drive tugboat that places the operator between the controls; in this case, the propulsion controls are on the right and the steering is on the left.
“It’s just handy. Everything is right within arm’s reach,” he said of the steering station layout.
The navigation electronics suite consists primarily of Furuno electronics and Icom VHF radios, with Jastram supplying the steering system.
Below deck, the vessel has a small crew mess and lounge area and berthing in the forecastle for four people. Although the boats typically operate with a two- or three-person “lunchbox crew” that goes home at night, the bunks have come in handy during some non-traditional towing assignments, according to Stabler.
Onboard firefighting equipment consists of portable extinguishers, a Griswold fire pump, and a Novec 1230 clean agent fire suppression system in the engine room.
Indiana, like its predecessors, primarily tows using a soft line connected to an H-bitt installed forward or aft along the centerline. DMT Marine supplied the capstan, which is used primarily for line handling. Schuyler Cos. fabricated the fendering at the bow.
Sherwin-Williams, which has its headquarters in Cleveland not far from the Cuyahoga River, supplied coatings for the vessel’s hull.
Shipyard workers at the Great Lakes facility are currently building the eighth vessel in the series, which will be named Minnesota. All the tugs are named for states, but the newbuilds carry the names of those bordering the Great Lakes. The final three tugs in the series should enter service by 2025.
Great Lakes Towing’s fleet has stood the test of time for more than a century and many of its tugs underwent significant upgrades to meet Coast Guard Subchapter M regulations.
But they won’t last forever. The company is exploring several options for long-term replacements, including a tug designed with electric propulsion.
For now, though, the Great Lakes Towing Company will continue to operate its fleet of G tugs at ports across the Great Lakes system. Indiana and the rest of the Cleveland class, meanwhile, will continue to build on that proud tradition. •