Big ships and tight corners require nimble, powerful tugs

On a broiling morning in mid-July, a Seabulk Towing tug had just assisted the 604-foot containership Asian Sun through the entrance channel into Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Shortly thereafter, emerging from a scrim of summer haze, the 761-foot container vessel CAP Moreton bore down on two McAllister Towing tugs idling at the sea buoy half a mile from the entrance channel.

As the ship drew abreast of the tugs, Capt. Steve Carmine maneuvered the 96-foot Erin McAllister alongside the vessel’s port bow, while Capt. Terry Briggs moved the 96-foot Vicki M. McAllister alongside the port quarter, both tugs edging closer to the hull as they ran with the ship.

Seabulk Towing’s ship docking module St. Johns assists the containership Asian Sun through the entrance channel. (Brian Gauvin photo)

The entrance channel, a short, narrow, man-made passage cutting through the barrier island fronting South Florida’s Atlantic Coast, connects the ocean to a turning basin cut into the throat of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).

As the flotilla entered the ICW, deck hand Sherwin James on the 5,100-hp Erin and his counterpart, engineer/deck hand Ken Bonner on the 4,650-hp Vicki put a line up to the ship. Both captains set the tugs up to perform a severe 110° turn to the south, a turn that calls for hefty horsepower.

With Erin pulling on the bow and Vicki pushing on the port quarter, the tugs muscled CAP Moreton through the turn and then ran alongside — with no weight on the ship — along the ICW and turned the vessel backward into berth 30.

Capt. Terry Briggs aboard the McAllister Towing z-drive Vicki M. McAllister. (Brian Gauvin photo)

The five tugs — two from McAllister Towing of Port Everglades and three from Seabulk Towing — that make up the Port Everglades fleet generate 22,850 of combined horsepower and 294 tons of combined bollard pull. The tugs are big fish in anybody’s pond.

Capt. Andy Edelstein is co-manager, along with Capt. Bruce Cumings, of the Port Everglades Pilot’s Association.

“Port Everglades is tugboat heaven,†Edelstein said. “Between Seabulk and McAllister, we have more powerful tugs in this little port than anywhere else.â€

The port juts into the three Broward County cities of Hollywood, Dania Beach and Fort Lauderdale, three links in the chain of sprawl running north from Miami. If you were looking for a cruise ship, you would likely find it there.

The 4,650-hp Vicki M. McAllister guiding the containership MSC Prague through a sharp turn on the way into Port Everglades. (Brian Gauvin photo)

On peak days, as many as a dozen cruise ships visit the port. The huge floating hotels crowd the west bank of the ICW, severely restricting the usable channel width. On those days, the Port Everglades pilots are only too happy to have horsepower in reserve while guiding a 900-foot containership past them.

Although small, Port Everglades is considered one of the busiest ports in the nation, with 4,251 ship arrivals last year. That’s down by over a thousand from a decade ago, partly because of the recession, but also due to the increase in ship size (more cargo, containers, oil and passengers can now fit into fewer ships). The tight turn, crowded channel, tanker traffic and bigger ships all make the case for forceful tugs.

The Port Everglades tug fleet is arguably the most diverse in the nation. The five tugs embody z-drive propulsion in all of its forms: true tractor tug, azimuthing stern drive (ASD), triple z-drive (Tri-Z) and the saucer-shaped ship docking modules (SDM).

Seabulk’s Port Everglades fleet, lined up in front of the Secor Marine building, consists of the 100-foot Broward and the two SDMs, New River and St. Johns.

Vicki M. McAllister, positioned at the stern quarter of the 761-foot container vessel CAP Moreton, assists the ship through a turn, as the z-drive tug Erin McAllister helps from the bow. (Brian Gauvin photo)

The company keeps a fourth tug, the 4,200-hp Fort Lauderdale, as a relief vessel, a role she was playing in July while Broward was undergoing maintenance.

The 5,100-hp Broward, built at Atlantic Marine in Jacksonville, Fla., is a true tractor tug with its z-drives forward. Broward is powered by two EMD 12-645F7B, turbo diesels driving two Aquamaster US 2001/3250 z-drives. The powerful tug, with 60 tons of bollard pull, is as distinctive today as it was when it first took to the water in 1995. Despite all the muscle, Broward has a gentle shear that suggests a smile.

“She’s the pride of the fleet,†said Tony Caggiano, assistant operations manager for Seabulk.

In the mid-90s, Erik Hvide, then head of Hvide Marine, which was acquired by Seabulk in 2000, developed the concept of the ship docking module (SDM) beginning with a sketch on a cocktail napkin. Elliott Bay Design Group in Seattle fleshed out the detail. The result is a 90-foot tug that has a 50-foot beam, specifically designed for tight harbors such as Port Everglades. The somewhat saucer-shaped tug is capable of exerting an equal amount of force in any direction.

The 4,000-hp SDMs, each powered by two Caterpillar 3516BTA diesels driving Ulstein 1650H z-drives, have a bollard pull of 55 tons. The drives are located fore and aft and straddle the centerline to give each propeller a clean, unimpeded flow of water, moving ahead or astern.

There is also a deep skeg fore and aft to give the vessel purchase in the water and for tracking while moving forward or astern.

“When we need tugs for tight spots, we’ve got the SDMs,†said Caggiano. “They’ve got power 360°. They can do 4 or 6 knots port to starboard and starboard to port. For maneuverability, there is no other type of tug like them.â€

In 2004, McAllister Towing of Port Everglades, which has its company headquarters at Battery Place in New York City, set up operations in the port. McAllister chartered two ASD tugs, Z-One and Z-Two, from Tugz International, an affiliate of the Great Lakes Group.

“The Erin (ex Z-Two) and Matthew (ex Z-One) were originally chartered when we started our operations here,†said Capt. Charles Runnion, vice president and general manager for McAllister in Port Everglades. “In November 2005, we purchased the Z-Two and renamed her the Erin McAllister. We continued our charter of the Matthew until February 2009, when the Vicki M. McAllister was brought into the port from our operations in Maine. The Vicki is an exceptionally well-built tug which makes her a good replacement for handling the large vessels here in Port Everglades.â€

Vicki M. McAllister, built in 2001 at Eastern Shipbuilding, in Panama City, Fla., is a muscular ASD tug powered by two EMD 12-645-E7B mains and Schottel SRP 1212 z-drives that produce 4,650 hp and 60 tons of bollard pull.

“Vicki has lots of horsepower,†said Briggs. “She’s highly maneuverable and fits well along a ship. She’s a great all-around tugâ€

Erin McAllister was converted from an ASD to a Tri-Z tug in 2001. A Caterpillar 3508B diesel and a retractable Ulstein 650 HRV z-drive, located forward, was added to the original engine package of Caterpillar 3516BTA diesels turning Ulstein 1650H z-drives. The result was a tug with 64 tons of bollard pull and one that matched Broward’s 5,100 hp, as required by Broward County in order for a second tug company to operate in the port. However, in addition to horsepower, it is the tug’s maneuverability and speed that make Erin McAllister unique, according to Runnion.

A few days later, with the midday sun baking the deck of the SDM New River, Capt. John Kahler eased the tug into a crowded slip of water between the ro/ro ship Crowley Ambassador at berth 33B and the cargo ship K-Breeze in berth 33A.

The job was to move K-Breeze around the Crowley ship to berth 33C, leaving 33A vacant for the imminent arrival of the containership Vega Sachen, already inside the port, being assisted along the ICW by Fort Lauderdale.

“This is the perfect job for an SDM tug,†said Kahler. “Its forte is in close quarters, because the boat can pull in any direction. It can pull a ship off the dock while working beam to beam.â€

As the captain maneuvered between the ships, the engineer/deck hand, Bill Coleman put a line up to the stern quarter of K-Breeze. Kahler turned the tug sideways and moved the ship out of the slip, then pulled the ship around the bow of the Crowley vessel. Pushing on the stern until the ship lined up with the berth, Kahler, at the stern quarter, moved K-Breeze into slip 33C.

With K-Breeze moored and Vega Sachen fast approaching the vacated slip, Kahler “hooked it up,†and, in a spin-o-rama maneuver, spun the SDM around the stern of Vega Sachen from the port side and brought the tug up perpendicular to the ship’s starboard quarter, parallel with Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale was released by the pilot. Kahler, with New River still on the starboard quarter, eased the stern of the ship around to line up with the berth. Then Kahler spun New River quickly back around the stern and beam to beam, with a line on the ship, slid Vega Sachen between the Crowley ship and the dock, and held Vega Sachen in while the mooring lines were set.

“See how nimble they are,†said Kahler, now back in the channel and steaming for the petroleum berths where another close-quarters assignment awaited, this time the 602-foot, outbound tanker Elka Glory, tightly tucked between the dock and the 600-foot Jones Act tanker Sunshine State. “Once you steer one of these you never want to steer anything else.â€

By Professional Mariner Staff