At age 86, Entech’s Basile hasn’t stopped innovating yet

Frank Basile could not specifically identify the reasons why the tugboat fraternity in North America can spot his tugboats in a heartbeat.

“People recognize my tugboat designs on the Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts,†said Basile, owner of Entech & Associates, a naval architectural firm he established in 1970, in Houma, La. So Basile asked a few tugboat owners and operators why. The consensus was the way the pilothouse, 01 deckhouse and stacks blend together, and the attention Entech pays to locating the tow winch as close to midships as possible.

The painted hull of Crimson Victory, a new tugboat built at Main Iron Works in Houma, La., for Crimson Shipping in Mobile, Ala. The vessel was designed by Entech & Associates. (Brian Gauvin photo)

In October 2010, with the recession still exhibiting a tenacious hold on the nation’s economy, Basile gave me a tour of a few shipyards. Fifteen workboats designed by Entech were under construction at 11 yards, mostly clustered around Houma, where he has established long and solid relationships.

At 86, Basile appears to be both age- and recession-proof. “I still have the distinction of being a living WWII vet,†said Basile. He is still a going concern at the office.

Houma is linked via canals, bayous, lakes and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to the Gulf of Mexico, Port Fourchon, New Orleans, Morgan City, Texas and the Mississippi River’s fingers stretching into the nation’s Heartland. Houma has developed into a bustling hub of shipyards. The moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has affected shipbuilding in Houma, but to a lesser extent, Entech.

“The moratorium hasn’t slowed us down much because most of my designs are for tugs and pushboats and not so much OSVs and crew boats,†said Basile. The firm does have one OSV under construction at Thoma-Sea Boat Builders’ West yard in Houma. The rest are tugs, including the last of a five-boat series of ATBs for Penn Maritime at Thoma-Sea’s Lockport yard.

If you were to sit on the bank of the ICW watching the boats go by, it would not be long before the chugging rhythmic beat of a compact-looking 72-foot towboat passes by, pushing a couple of fuel barges. Chances are, it would be an Entech-designed vessel.

Basile’s 72-foot pushboat design has been a staple in Entech’s portfolio for many years. The little workhorses, pushing two 30,000-barrel barges, seem to be everywhere, plying the numerous waterways along the Gulf Coast.

However, Basile has a 95-foot design he hopes will become as ubiquitous as the 72s. The first 95-footer is under construction at Bourg Dry Dock, owned and operated by LeBeouf Brothers Towing in Bourg, La. The yard, located on the banks of the ICW about nine miles from Houma, primarily builds tank barges for the LaBeouf fleet. This will be the first towboat to be built at that facility in more than 30 years. Basile speculates that the fleet contains at least eight of Entech’s 72-foot boats. The 95s are designed to push a four-barge tow along the larger rivers in the inland river system.

The Dann family from Dann Marine Towing in Chesapeake City, Md., in the Houma yard to check out a tugboat on order. From left, Robert Dann, J.C. Dann, Christopher Dann and Robert Dann Sr. (Brian Gauvin photo)

“The 72s have a very definite place in the industry, particularly along the Intracoastal,†said Basile, who figures there are 70 of his in service. “But in time I hope the 95s will step up and surpass the 72s because they can handle twice the tow with maybe 33 percent more fuel.â€

Entech employed simulated arched tunnels with open propellers in designing the 95s. The arched tunnel, as opposed to an inverted V-shaped tunnel developed in the late 50s, allows for smoother water flow over the propellers, minimizing turbulence and the vibration caused by cavitations.

Basile developed the business relationships and friendships he now enjoys in the industry, first as a kid spending his summers kicking around at his uncle’s boatyard, then as a boatyard worker, boatyard owner, mechanical engineer and naval architect. “I’ve been around boats all my life.â€

Upon leaving the LeBeouf yard we could see the shining boom of a new crane rising from the scrubby wetland surrounding Main Iron Works across the ICW. The Bayou Blue Bridge was closed until further notice. “I guess we’ll have to go all the way back around,†said Basile, resigned to the usual condition the old pontoon bridge seemed to be in.

On our way, Basile summed up one reason for Entech’s continuing success, stating, “We have a strong staff.†He went on to name them: naval architects Kimia Jalili and Marc Molaison, 3D modeling director Danny Ferry and two design draftsmen, Danny Trosclair and Paul Reed.

“Kimia is very creative and that’s what you need in this business,†said Basile, adding that her degree in naval architecture was obtained from studies in Sweden and St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Naval architect Frank Basile, the 86-year-old owner of Entech, left, meets with Main Iron Works owner LeRoy Molaison at the Houma yard. (Brian Gauvin photo)

Molaison has a degree in naval architecture from the University of New Orleans and is the son of Basile’s longtime friend, LeRoy Molaison, owner of Main Iron Works. “LeRoy was a very young man when I met him in 1968, and Marc has shipbuilding in his DNA,†said Basile.

The Main Iron Works yard is a scatter of buildings, slips and slipways off the ICW. The dark aged wood walls inside the office building are crammed with photographs of boats that the company has built, many of them designed by Entech.

“I guess we may be the last two standing,†said Basile, joining Molaison for a photo op at the Main yard. LeRoy Molaison and Main Iron Works are well-known names in the workboat world. A tugboat wheelhouse finished in Spanish cedar at the Molaison yard is recognizable from Florida to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Maine to San Diego, and beyond.

In October there were two of Entech’s designs on the yard’s slipways. Crimson Victory is a 116-foot ocean tug with a single-chine deep-V hull slated to join the Crimson Shipping fleet in Mobile, Ala., in the spring of 2011. Crimson Victory is patterned after Ann T. Cheramie (American Tugboat Review 2004), also designed by Entech and built at the Main Iron Works yard, for René J. Cheramie & Sons, of Broussard, La. The Cheramie tug has proved to be fuel-efficient towing barges in the Caribbean.

On another slipway was Chesapeake Coast, the first of two 100-foot tugs for Dann Marine Towing, located on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal at Chesapeake City, Md. The tugs are designed to push like a regular pushboat, and pull like a true towing boat. They have a single-chine hull with huge towing knees, as with a pushboat or towboat. They will also be equipped to tow from the stern, as with a tugboat.

“They will work a lot better offshore with that V-hull and the push knees,†said Molaison. “The barges won’t stray (from side to side as they might with a tow made up on a model bow), and if it gets really rough they can just put them on the string. These are the first of a kind for us.â€

As well as the yards listed above, Entech-designed tugs are being constructed at Southwest Shipyard in Houston, Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Maryland and Hope Services, Halimar Shipyard, Eymard & Sons and Intracoastal Iron Works in Louisiana. “If some of the pending stuff I’ve got out there comes through, I will have to hire more people,†speculates Basile.

Some of that speculation involves short-sea shipping and the concept of a national marine highway. Basile is promoting designs for smaller ATBs that are purpose built for container-on-barge transportation along the inland waterways, on the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida and up the Eastern Seaboard. Container shipping on the Gulf and East Coast is expected to rise dramatically when the widening of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014. Barge transportation of containers is expected to follow suit.

Main Iron Works is building the Entech-designed Chesapeake Coast for Dann Marine Towing. The tugboat is unique, with huge push knees on the bow to handle barges in outside waters and an unusual stern towing configuration. (Brian Gauvin photo)

Reports indicate that 40 percent of Europe’s freight is moved within the continent by containers on barges. It is a growing industry in Asia and China, as well. Time considerations aside, numerous studies conclude that a marine highway is more economical and places less stress on the environment than roads and rails.

The tugs would be under 100 gross tons (regulatory) to economize on crewing, and under a 79-foot load-line length to avoid, at the present time, some of the costly inspections required for longer draft vessels. The deck barges would be from 250 to 300 feet long.

By noon, Basile was ready to head back to the office and do some work. With a fresh target market in mind, several projects underway and others pending, the future looks full of possibilities, despite the recession and the moratorium on drilling. Always mindful of his strengths, the ageless Basile concluded that, “I’m in hog heaven when talk is about tugs.â€

By Professional Mariner Staff