Compact Bisso z-drive boasts Canadian lines, Mississippi bones


It was only a matter of time before a Robert Allan Ltd.-designed azimuthing stern drive tug joined 17 other z-drives, spread among four companies, working the Mississippi River from its mouth to Baton Rouge, La.

The compact 80-foot Gladys B., named for the wife of E.N. Bisso & Son founder Capt. Edwin Napoleon Bisso, became part of the company’s fleet in 2016.

“You just can’t say enough good things about this tug,” said E.N. Bisso President Matt Holzhalb. “We’re very fortunate that Signet Shipbuilding & Repair was the builder. The quality and craftsmanship are excellent.” He added that Gladys B. does everything the shipyard said it would do.

The tug, part of the RApport 2400 series from British Columbia-based Robert Allan, is powered by MTU main engines and Rolls-Royce z-drives. Auxiliary power is provided by John Deere generators. Markey Machinery provided the hawser winch and deck winch.

For Capt. Luis Solano, the maneuverability and power of the tug in tight slip jobs tops the list of the vessel’s attributes.

The tug’s power is provided by a pair of MTU Tier 3 main engines and Rolls-Royce z-drives that combine to unleash more than 5,300 horsepower.

“And the slip clutches lessen the wheel wash when we are in slips or locks,” he said. “You can bring it all the way down to 25 or 30 rpms without disengaging and losing power. So fewer rpms, less wheel wash and less fuel burn for work on the river.”

Solano is the fourth generation of his family to work at E.N. Bisso & Son. The thread stretches back to his great-great-grandfather, Capt. Albert Hohensee. “Right on this site,” Solano said, pointing to the cluster of buildings and moorage hugging the bank of the Mississippi River at the foot of Walnut Street in New Orleans.

Solano said that the tug’s 38-foot beam, deep hull and skeg contribute to a very stable boat. “For a short boat, it is very stable in the mighty current of the mighty Mississippi River,” he said.

All three staterooms are below deck and well insulated, providing a quiet environment for the crew. And the crew quarters, galley and bridge each have an individual thermostat for personal comfort. “That’s very nice,” Solano said.

Gladys B. is the sixth z-drive tug in Bisso’s 14-vessel fleet. The company has two conventional tugs in its Gulfport Towing lineup.

Gladys B. is well built and well designed to meet the demands of the river and ship-assist support,” Holzhalb said. “We would definitely consider this design in the future.”


The line on the bow runs from a Markey 50-hp hawser winch through a spotless Smith Berger chock.


Visibility and operator access are enhanced by the ergonomic layout of Gladys B.’s wheelhouse.


Pulling power to the rear is supplied by a Markey deck winch wound with Samson Quantum-12 line.


Keeping the nimble tugboat up and running are, from left, deck hand Justin St. Romain, Capt. Luis Solano and engineer George Nozaretin.


Gladys B. specifications

Owner/operator: E.N. Bisso & Son, New Orleans
Designer/builder: Robert Allan Ltd., Vancouver, British Columbia/Signet Shipbuilding & Repair Co., Pascagoula, Miss.
Dimensions: L: 80’ W: 38’ D: 16’
Mission: Ship assist and escort
Crew size: Four

• (2) MTU 16V 4000 M64 engines, Tier 3 compliant, 2,681 hp each at 1,800 rpm (5,362 hp total)
• (2) Rolls-Royce US 205-P20 FP z-drives with nibral 2,400-mm propellers
• (2) John Deere 6068AFM85 99-kW auxiliary generators
• Bollard pull: 63 metric tons ahead, 60.5 metric tons astern
• Vessel speed: 11.5 knots

• Markey DEPGF-42S 50-hp electric hawser winch with 400 feet of Samson Saturn-12 line
• Markey DEPC-32 20-hp electric deck winch with Samson Quantum-12 line
• Bow staple: Smith Berger stainless-steel chock mounted in a shipyard-built carbon steel frame

• Furuno CAT 1 and JRC CAT 1 radar
• Rose Point Navigation Systems GPS
• (2) JRC VHF radios

• FFS firefighting monitor
• International Marine Interspeed 640 hull paint

• ABS Class +A1 Tug (FiFi Capable), Towing Service, +AMS, Escort



By Professional Mariner Staff