First of three Arctic-class vessels for Foss

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Michele Foss, christened in April and set to make its maiden voyage in mid-May, represents a new level of sophistication and capability for Seattle’s Foss Maritime Co., Gary Faber, senior vice president, said at the vessel’s christening. The $20 million-plus vessel, five years in the making, not only lets Foss compete worldwide in the 100-ton bollard pull class but also shows that a U.S. shipyard — Foss’ own Rainier, Ore., facility — can turn out boats on budget and on time.

Plans call for Michele Foss to be followed 12 to 15 months later by Denise Foss, and after that by Nicole Foss, both built to an identical design.

“I’ve been doing this 45 years, and this is the boat I’ve always wanted to design,” Faber said. “Everything is exceeding our expectations from this prototype design. She and her two sisters will serve this company well over the next generations.”

Michele Foss was originally designed for 75 to 80 metric tons of bollard pull and a smaller beam, but research revealed a growing gap in the market for 100-ton-pull boats. Enlarging the hull, engines and winches added 25 percent to the cost. However, it created a vessel that delivers a much better market value, Faber said, adding that it cost 10 percent under the estimate delivered by the designers.

“The rate versus the cost works out just fine,” said Faber. “The additional size and capability drive a much better market value. We’re in a good place with this boat. What we can put her into the market for is competitive, and that’s key.”

The boat will serve mostly the oil and gas industry, as Foss generally does, and will do so anywhere in the world, Faber said. Its first trip will be towing a specialized oversized barge to Korea, where it will pick up shore-based, 98-foot-wide, oil production modules. The 360-by-120-by-20-foot barge will then be towed to Alaska’s Point Thomson, a 93,000-acre oil and gas production site about 60 miles east of Prudhoe Bay and adjacent to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  

Next year, Denise Foss is scheduled to join Michele Foss for a trip from Korea to Russia, and the year after that, the third sister is expected to join the other two for another Korea-Russia run. 

Oil drilling in the Arctic has been protested by activists who worry about its environmental effects, and it has been plagued with problems. A drill rig went aground off Kodiak Island in south-central Alaska after its towlines broke in December 2012. In December 2014, Noble Drilling, a contractor to Shell, pleaded guilty in federal court and was fined $12.2 million for safety and environmental violations. 

Capt. Dwaine Whitney in the wheelhouse, which features Furuno electronic arrays, a Dirigo compass and Simrad autopilot.

But those issues are of no great concern to Foss. “We hope Arctic development continues, but we’re in every [oil and gas] market worldwide, which gives us diversity and lets us protect our risk,” Faber said. “We’re in Alaska, Russia, the Canadian Arctic, Australia. An asset like this can go anywhere in the world because it has all the necessary international certifications.”

The oil and gas industry sets the highest standards for anyone who does business with it, and Michele Foss meets them all, according to Faber. It is the third Foss tug to achieve SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) certification, joining Lauren Foss and Corbin Foss, both built in 2003. “You need SOLAS if you want to compete at the highest levels and across the board,” Faber said. 

Michele Foss is certified by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) as an A1 towing vessel and as ice-class D0, meaning it can push aside first-year ice, though it can’t run up on top of heavy, old ice and crunch down through it like an icebreaker. The shell plating is thicker than usual on the hull’s forward half and there’s additional framing in the hull to resist denting, explained project manager Dan Cole. The boat is double-hulled in most areas. The propeller shafts are stronger and bigger than normal, and the rudders, nozzles and 126-inch-diameter, three-blade props are beefier than usual, he added. 

But there is no penalty to pay if it is operated in warmer waters, Foss officials stressed. “Just because it’s Arctic-class doesn’t mean it can’t go anywhere in the world,” Cole said. “We just extended its range north and south. It does all work at the maximum bollard pull even in the warmest climates.”

The new vessel is brimming with innovative features, said everyone from Faber to designer Glosten Associates to the master, Dwaine Whitney. The two main Markey winch drums — each loaded with 3,000 feet of 2.5-inch cable — wind from their undersides, not from their tops as is common. This creates a lower center of gravity, poses less danger and offers greater control, said Cole. Retractable “shark jaws” project upward from the deck to hold the barge bridle while it’s disconnected.

Each stateroom for the crew has a TV and satellite Internet. The master’s stateroom has its own head and shower. 

For safety and comfort in cold environments, redundant heating units are built into the pilothouse and the galley. The sea chest, where all raw water is taken into the boat, can be heated by water from the generators to prevent it from icing over. A Global Marine Distress and Safety Systems (GMDSS) radio is a remote-region safety feature. The main winches are also heated, though the decks are not. 

Special life jackets, each with a lifting harness and buddy line built in, are required to meet SOLAS requirements, as are the 43 fire extinguishers on board. 

The Nautican nozzles on Michele Foss are integrated with pre-swirl stators and are ducted and tapered from front to back, providing a performance increase of up to 33 percent. Longitudinal framing provides much more storage or machinery space than conventional designs.

With all the concern for the environment in the oil and gas industry, Michele Foss is designed to discharge not a single drop of water. Fuel, rather than water, is used as ballast, which required the installation of nearly three miles of fuel piping on board — about 70 percent more than for the typical tug. Even wash water is recycled, and large compartments store garbage. 

The vessel uses keel coolers rather than raw seawater to cool the engines. The heat exchanger is inside the vessel, and raw water is never taken aboard for cooling. A marine sanitation device treats the blackwater, and holding tanks contain graywater and treated blackwater until they can be legally discharged outside of sensitive areas.

Three steering systems provide ample backup. One is the standard electronic controls; a second works by controlling the valves at the steering pumps; and a third, operated from the steering-gear room, is totally manual, with a simple wheel that turns the rudders directly. 

The pilothouse has two large Furuno radar screens, one of which overlays radar onto electronic charts. A system known as BNWAS (Bridge Navigation Watch Alarm System) uses overhead motion detectors to set off alarms — first locally, then in the master’s and mate’s staterooms, and finally if necessary in the galley — if there’s no motion in the pilothouse for a user-selected period of time while the autopilot is engaged. 

All engine-room functions can be accomplished from the bridge, as can all fire-control tasks. Winch tension can be monitored from that location as well. Stations at either side of the pilothouse’s forward end allow maneuvering with full visibility of the crew working at the forward mooring bitts. 

A complete station at the aft edge of the boat deck, above the tow winch, allows easier working in reverse or supervising the tow. That station shows virtually every function of the vessel, including winch tension, which can be set so that the wire cannot be broken, said Whitney. 

Three VHF radios make it easier to monitor three channels than relying on the scan feature of a single unit. There are also two single-sideband radios and an Inmarsat C system, as well as a narrowband direct printer that allows the printing of data transmitted by radio.

The Nautican nozzles, integrated with pre-swirl stators, are ducted and tapered from front to back, providing a performance increase of up to 33 percent, said Whitney. Longitudinal framing provides much more storage or machinery space than conventional designs. 

The port Cat C280-8 main engine in Michele Foss. The two engines, rated at 12 knots,  actually give the vessel more than 13 knots, thanks to their power and the modern design.

“It’s going to take a while before we can really grasp all the new technology,” Whitney said. “Everything is computer-based. The engineers have an unbelievable amount of information at their grasp. We are overwhelmed.”

Michele Foss performed its sea trials in April during the 27-hour run from the Rainier, Ore., shipyard to the site of the christening in Tacoma, Wash. During that run, conducted at full throttle nearly throughout, not a single alarm sounded, and only one minor leak had to be attended to. ABS requires only a six-hour alarm-free run for certification. 

“That’s amazing,” said Whitney. “It’s a tribute to the shipyard that things were put together so well. This is going to be an awesome vessel for a long time to come.”

The ride was steady and comfortable, he said. The vessel made 13 knots on the open ocean at full throttle, surprising even Faber.

 “I was expecting maybe 12 knots from a boat with that much beam (41 feet), so to get 13-plus is great,” Faber said. “The design, the seakeeping, the speed through the water — everything exceeded our expectations. The first time out of the box it hit every performance button.”

Discussions about Michele Foss began as early as 2005, though it was only five years later that “we really started to center on performance characteristics,” said Jay Edgar, president of Seattle-based naval architects Glosten Associates. Glosten provided design services to Foss for the vessel. Using Foss’s own yard for construction eliminated the need for an engineering plan on which competing yards could bid, Edgar said. 

“We could move really quickly into detailed design and construction — move from mission concepts to actual design, in the span of six months,” he said. “It was a nearly seamless effort. We took this from napkin sketches through to designing every nut and bolt in the boat.”

For the next Arctic-class tug, Glosten hopes to provide more detail on the interior space and the fit and finish, Edgar said. “Some of the staterooms are a little smaller than may be ideal. Lessons learned in detailing and how the structural systems fit will get rolled into the next two hulls.” But overall, his assessment of Michele Foss is positive: “I think it’s a terrific boat. To see a boat you’ve sketched on a napkin floating there in steel — it’s a feeling like no other.”

By Professional Mariner Staff