Customers prefer z-drives, and Bisso’s new tug delivers


On a blustery March morning, Capt. Aaron Anderson was putting the new azimuthing stern drive (ASD) tugboat Archie T. Higgins through its paces on the Mississippi River in front of the E.N. Bisso & Son dock at the foot of Walnut Street in New Orleans.

The 96-foot ASD tug is the fourth vessel designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants of Seattle and built at Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Panama City, Fla., for the E.N. Bisso fleet. The company also has nine conventional tugs, but the current preference of the pilots and shipowners is for z-drives, especially when working a long, busy stretch of river with a strong current.

“We are continuing to upgrade the fleet,” said Bisso’s president, Bill McDonald. “It’s important to stay current and the pilots and the shipowners love the tractor tugs. We’ve looked at a lot of different scenarios and the four z-drives in the fleet are meeting our performance needs. They are just right, not too large but have the right power. They are giving us great service and Eastern builds a good boat.”

There are currently 15 ASD tugs split among four companies operating from Pilottown near the mouth of the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge, a 230-mile reach of strong-flowing river that comprises the Ports of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, South Louisiana, New Orleans and Greater Baton Rouge.

“The z-drives have good dash speed and can get to the jobs quickly, especially since we cover such a long stretch of river,” said McDonald. “Docking in the river, especially with the current we get, is different from anywhere else,” said port captain Mike Killelea. “And there is so much traffic. You don’t see a lot of line out because it’s close quarters all the time here.”

Capt. Aaron Anderson operates the new E.N. Bisso & Son tug near the company’s dock in New Orleans.

The propulsion chain in Archie T. Higgins is two Tier 3 Caterpillar 3516C mains and Rolls-Royce US 205-P18 z-drives with four-blade, fixed-pitch propellers mounted in 92-inch nozzles. The propulsion package produces 4,000 hp, 57 tons of bollard pull and 14 knots.

On the foredeck are a bow staple, an H-bitt and a Markey DEPCF-42 electric escort/hawser winch wound with 500 feet of Samson Saturn-12 line. On the aft deck are a Markey capstan and H-bitt.

The firefighting equipment aboard consists of an FFS fire monitor mounted forward of the bridge, fed at 5,000 gpm by a Nijhuis fire pump driven by a dedicated Caterpillar 3412D engine.

Naming the vessel after Archibald Thomas Higgins is a special honor for E.N. Bisso. Higgins was involved with the company for some 60 years, many of them on the company’s board of directors. During World War II, he served as a bomber pilot with the Army Air Forces’ 866th Bomber Squadron in the Pacific. Higgins was awarded the Air Medal, six Bronze Oak Clusters for skill and courage, and the Distinguished Flying Cross “for extraordinary achievement, and for cool courage in the face of great danger.” He died in April 2015 at the age of 91.


Chief engineer Blaine Valois checks the control panel for one of the 4,000-hp tug’s two Caterpillar 3516C Tier 3 diesel engines.


One of the vessel’s two Rolls-Royce US 205-P18 z-drive units.


On the bow, Samson Saturn-12 line is ready for duty through the H-bitt. Archie T. Higgins carries 500 feet of the line.


The bow of Archie T. Higgins is equipped with a Markey DEPCF-42 single-drum 40-hp electric escort/ hawser winch.


The boat’s FFS fire monitor can manage 5,000 gallons per minute with a 400-foot throw.


Anderson and Valois gather around the H-bitt with their port captain, Mike Killelea, center.


By Professional Mariner Staff