This time of year, Bald Head Island in North Carolina is packed with vacationers drawn to its world-class beaches, fishing and golf.
The job of keeping the island fully stocked and running smoothly falls to Rusty Terry, captain of the 850-hp Capt. Cooper for Bald Head Island Limited.
Up to five times a day, Capt. Cooper pushes the 100-foot deck barge USS Brandon Randall the 4 nautical miles separating Southport, N.C., and Bald Head Island, across the Cape Fear River. Typical runs carry heavy equipment, trash trucks, building supplies, food and beverage, and delivery vehicles. Almost everything needed to keep a resort island going arrives via barge. Visitors come and go on personal boats or the island’s passenger ferry.
When deliveries stop for an extended period, due to weather or mechanical issues, island residents and businesses feel it almost immediately, Terry said. “It means a contractor is not getting his lumber and the grocery store is running out of produce.”
Maintaining the service day in, day out is the primary objective for Claude McKernan, vice president of Bald Head Island Transportation.
McKernan oversaw construction of the 50-foot Capt. Cooper, designed by CT Marine of Maine and built by Metal Trades in South Carolina. Everything about the vessel, including its unpainted aluminum house, was designed for reliability and ease of upkeep.
“We want low maintenance, low repair, reliability and safety, and that is what I think we’ve got,” he said during a recent voyage to the island.
Capt. Cooper entered service four years ago. CT Marine custom-designed the vessel to operate in the extremely tight quarters at Bald Head Island Marina. The hull tapers from 24 feet amidships to 17 feet at the transom to facilitate the 45-degree turn toward the landing.
Maintaining a 5.5-foot maximum draft led to the tug’s unique design. Adding another deckhouse level would have made the tug too heavy and exceeded the draft requirement. Instead, the wheelhouse sits atop four 8-foot supports, creating a spiderlike appearance.
Propulsion comes via two 425-hp John Deere engines turning five-blade nibral propellers through ZF gears. Two Northern Lights gensets provide eleectricity. Patterson deck winches help secure the tug and barge using Samson rope.
“We really talked it up when we got it, and we are still talking it up four years later,” McKernan said of Capt. Cooper.
Perched at the controls on a sunny late spring morning, Terry guided the vessel toward a lighthouse on Bald Head Island known as Old Baldy. The tow made about 4 knots against a 2-knot tidal current.
The voyage was uneventful, save for a containership that passed the tow inbound for Wilmington, N.C. Terry steered the tow toward the edge of the channel to make way for the 544-foot Portugal-flagged AS Faustina.
Asked about the perks of the job, Terry didn’t hesitate.
“The environment. The scenery,” he said, gesturing toward the islands and sounds visible in every direction.
“People spend big bucks to visit this place, and I am here every day,” he continued. “It is a beautiful part of the world.” •