‘Workhorse’ tug gives Donjon flexibility around New York Harbor
Capt. William Sullivan, manager of regulatory compliance and vessel repair at Donjon Marine, summed up the company’s versatile new towboat in just three words.
“It’s a workhorse,” he said.
A glance at J. Arnold Witte’s AIS track showed that in a 24-hour period, the 78-foot towboat had covered as much of New York Harbor as an enterprising Manhattan taxi driver might drive on a hectic Saturday night. J. Arnold has been trouble-free right out of the shipyard and is working out well for the company’s New York-area crews, according to Sullivan.
The vessel, with its retractable pilothouse, came from the Donjon Shipbuilding & Repair facility in Erie, Pa., in September 2021. It transited to New York Harbor via two Great Lakes and the New York State Canal System. Since then, it has mostly towed scrap metal barges on the Hudson River and in the waterways around the ports of New York and New Jersey. Matt Michnya, Donjon’s port engineer, said the tug is “proving it can operate as we planned.”
Those operations could include periodic trips back across the New York State Canal system to move equipment and vessels between Donjon’s base in Port Newark, N.J., and its shipyard on Lake Erie.
This satisfaction was echoed by John Callahan, organizer of the annual Waterford New York Tugboat Roundup and former executive deputy director of NYS Canal Corp. “We appreciate Donjon Marine’s support for ongoing commercial uses of those waterways that [people] might not know about,” he said. In recognition of this, the Tugboat Roundup named J. Arnold Witte its “boat of the year” for 2022. It is one of the few active commercial tugboats to receive the honor. Most of J. Arnold Witte’s work, though, will be in New York harbor, including its narrow tidal creeks.
Boksa Marine Design provided plans for the tug and handled the engineering work. Nick Boksa, president of the firm, considers J. Arnold Witte something of a hybrid design that blends attributes of an inland pushboat with the versatility of a near-coastal tug. The large push knees are like those on inland river towboats.
The boat can be ballasted, and the wheelhouse lowered, to get the air draft down from 17 feet, 11.5 inches to 9 feet. The wheelhouse will be in the raised position roughly 90 percent of the time. As such, Boksa’s design reinforced it with guide rails that reduce swaying and movement in strong winds.
“We did this for operator comfort,” Boksa said. “We needed a stable wheelhouse when it was in the up position.”
Four I-beams support the wheelhouse in that elevated position. The beams provide adequate stability without any rock or sway. The retractable wheelhouse can be raised or lowered to the desired position on a hydraulic cylinder.
“When you take your hand off the switch,” Michnya said, “it stays right where you are at that instant. It can extend upward a full seven feet or to any height you need.”
Capt. Charlie Riddick likely knows the boat better than anyone, having been involved throughout its construction, delivery and now working in operations. Riddick praised the squared-off bow and high push knees, saying they “help us out a lot and are preferable to model bow boats for moving large barges with their high rake into tight areas in the creeks of New York City, where many scrap yards are located.” With its push knees, J. Arnold pushes those barges in backward, eliminating the need to spin them around as would be required with a model bow tug.
Riddick said the design finds a happy medium in air draft. Although the push knees can work with the high rakes, the overall low profile allows the boat to transit low bridges in New York City’s Harlem River. While traveling that waterway, the tug must fold down its mast rather than wait for low tide or a bridge opening as was the case with larger, higher-profile tugs.
Riddick also praised the powertrain consisting of three Tier 3 Mitsubishi S6R2-Y3MPTAW engines run through ZF transmissions to spin up to three four-blade stainless-steel propellers. The props are 66 inches in diameter with a 52-inch pitch.
Riddick usually runs J. Arnold using all three engines, but sometimes when maneuvering into a berth he engages only the outboard engines to operate it like a twin-screw boat. That third engine continues to run and can be quickly engaged for a decisive bump forward or a pull back.
Capt. Brett Cooper likes the simplicity of the Mitsubishi mains. He described them as “mechanical, old school.”
“For tune-ups, you don’t need a laptop,” he said. “Feeler gauges, for example, can accomplish the task. Of course, there are sensors on top of sensors, but it’s not an all-automated system as on some new or repowered boats.”
Michnya, the port engineer, echoed these sentiments, touting the Mitsubishi engines as “basic straight mechanical engines, without elaborate computerized controls.” He continued, praising the small but powerful engines that left plenty of space in the engine room for maintenance and repair work.
Even with all three engines operating, the fuel burn rate was less than 450 gallons over a 24-hour period, as measured on a recent job moving scrap from Albany to the port of New York/New Jersey.
Michnya considers the John Deere-powered Kohler 65EOZCJ generators state-of-the-art. The units have an automatic paralleling feature and are capable of generator-to-generator transfer. J. Arnold Witte has a backup steering system in case loss of power renders the wheelhouse stick controls inoperable. The backup system, a wheel located on the stern, is manually operated.
Both Riddick and Cooper are happy with the interior layout of the one-deck tug. The captain has his own cabin. The galley is small because of the hydraulic unit and fluid storage forward and under the wheelhouse, but it has a satisfactory layout, with seating for four. Riddick said the marine joiner panels and vinyl-clad metal interior surfaces are easier to clean than wood or fiberglass alternatives. Having two heads is another great creature comfort, particularly on a boat that runs around the clock.
All things considered, consensus among Donjon’s crew is that J. Arnold Witte is a great addition to the company’s fleet.