TAMPA: New, improved and ready to serve

Pilot boat Tampa ready to rejoin The Tampa Bay Pilots Association fleet.
The Gladding-Hearn refit included new engines that give Tampa a top speed of over 25 knots.
The Gladding-Hearn refit included new engines that give Tampa a top speed of over 25 knots.

The Tampa Bay Pilots Association has taken delivery of Tampa, a refitted Chesapeake-class pilot boat built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding in 2003 at a time when the Massachusetts shipyard was introducing the then-new class of mid-size, high-speed launches.

In 2015, the Tampa pilots took delivery of the shipyard’s first updated Chesapeake-class MKII, which was designed by C. Raymond Hunt Associates incorporated Volvo Penta’s newer IPS 2 pod system.

With more than 50,000 operating hours in the log, the 53’ all-aluminum pilot boat’s twin 600-hp Caterpillar 3406E engines were replaced with a new pair of Caterpillar C18, EPA Tier 3-compliant diesel engines, each delivering 670 hp at 2,100 rpm. The package gives the pilot boat a top speed of over 25 knots. 

The engines turn new 5-bladed Bruntons propellers via Twin Disc MGX-5136A Quickshift gears. In addition, the refurbished Tampa received a new Seastar Optimus steering system and a new Northern Lights 12-kW generator.

To accommodate the new engines, the shipyard modified the launch’s engine beds, hull frames, exhaust systems, cooling, and fuel system piping. 

Other upgrades included new Norsap 1500 pilot seats, new windows, three new doors to the pilothouse and four new hatch covers. The boat’s bottom, topsides, and pilothouse were stripped down to the bare metal and after some minor plating repairs the vessel received a fresh coating system.

The Tampa Bay Pilots Association has been guiding vessels into the Tampa Bay ports of Tampa, Manatee and St. Augustine since 1886.and currently operates a trio of pilot boats with 18 pilots on call 24/7/365 based at its Egmont Key pilothouse.

Tampa is the workhorse of our fleet,” said John Timmel, who has logged eight years’ experience as a pilot and serves as manager of the Tampa Bay Pilots Association. 

“It’s the oldest boat we have so we wanted to get some extra life out of it and felt it would be worth installing new engines in it,” he said. “With that alone, we’ll be able to get at least another 15 years out of life out of the boat.”

According to Timmel, Tampa has answered approximately 1,500 pilotage calls since it was refitted and returned to service. 

“That makes for a lot of wear and tear on a boat, but Tampa has proved to be up to it,” he said. 

“Personally speaking, it’s my favorite boat. It’s faster, smoother, quieter, more fuel efficient, and handles like a race car. The refit breathed a whole new life into the boat, and it’s far surpassed our performance expectations.”

In all, added Timmel, “We’re very happy with the new, improved Tampa.”