Flat-bottomed SST Capilano can side-step, spin and pull


Saam Smit Canada’s newest vessel is not your everyday tug. 

“The bottom is like a dinner plate,” Capt. John Armstrong, the company’s vice president of operations, said of SST Capilano delivered in January 2016. 

“It side-steps at close to 8 knots, spins 360 degrees in seven seconds, stops in less than its own length, steers straight at full-speed astern and all with no deck edge emersion.” 

SST Capilano presents a powerful visage when making time across Vancouver Harbor.

SST Capilano is a sister to the A.G. McIlwain-designed SST Tiger Sun (formerly Smit Tiger Sun), which was delivered in 1999. The 71-by-35-foot SST Capilano built by ABD Boats in North Vancouver celebrates the success of that earlier vessel. 

“When they designed the Tiger Sun, they asked some of our captains what they wanted, and the captains stressed the ability to move sideways,” recalled Saam Smit Capt. Stewart Broderick. “Now, every time that I run the Sun or the Capilano, it is just fun.”

Equally important to the tug captain’s approval is that of the ship pilots. BC Coast Pilot Capt. Rob Stewart has nothing but praise for Vancouver Harbor tug companies and he particularly likes this class of tug. 

SST Capilano working a ship in Vancouver Harbor.

“We have a number of docks that were built for smaller 150-meter ships, so Tiger Sun and the SST Capilano are a handy size for working the larger 230-meter range of ships that are more common today,” he said. 

“The real advantage of these tugs is that their hull is very omnidirectional,” Stewart added. “We can put them on the hip or forward bow when they are escorting us into Vancouver Harbor and they can move right along at 6 or 7, even 8 knots, keeping pace with the ship. They can quickly respond to our commands. We are pleased that Smit has made the commitment to build two new ones.”

At 71 feet, these tugs are significantly shorter than many current ship-docking tugs. But their 35-foot beam provides good lateral stability. In a recent demonstration, SST Capilano moved sideways at a remarkable 7.5 knots, which would easily match the speed of most ships for harbor assist work. Capt. Broderick explained an important role for the sideways maneuver. 

Port marine mechanic Stuart Jones flanked by SST Capilano’s pair of MTU 16V mains.

“When a containership enters Vancouver Harbor bound for the Lynnterm container terminal, the pilot wants us on the starboard bow to safeguard against Burnaby shoal as they come to starboard past the shoal,” he said. “But then they get us to push so as to straighten out to come alongside the container terminal. Even when working under the flare of a containership’s bow, our house work and stacks are 30 feet back.”

The “slippery” nature of the hull comes up regularly when people talk about this boat. Where modern escort tugs have a large skeg that can exert strong lateral forces, SST Capilano and sisters rely upon their power to exert pushing, backing or stopping power. The tug’s pair of 1,685-hp, IMO Tier 3 , 16V MTU 4000 M61 high-speed diesels coupled to Rolls-Royce US 20 z-drives by Centa carbon-fiber shafts provide the power. 

In combination with the shallow broad hull, the tug’s 65-ton bollard pull can be applied in any direction. The response time from a pilot’s order, the tug captain’s bridge controls, to the engine and z-drive response can be much faster with 1,800-rpm engines than with a medium-speed engine. SST Capilano can turn 360 degrees in just seven seconds. She can crash stop in less than the length of the tug. For working a ship with a line up, SST Capilano carries a DMT TW-H300KN single-drum hawser winch loaded with 650 feet of 2.5-inch synthetic line. 

Smit Vancouver port marine mechanic Stuart Jones with one of SST Capilano’s Rolls-Royce Aquamaster z-drives. 

Two 4.5-liter John Deere 35-kW generator sets meet the vessel’s electrical requirements.

The Vancouver Saam Smit operation has several boats that do harbor work as well as two larger vessels that take on a crew of five to do tanker escorts out to Juan de Fuca off Victoria. Some 80 percent of the ship’s berths are within 10 or 15 minutes from the company dock. For regular harbor operations, they have a two-man crew standing by days and another two men on night watch. As additional crews are required, the company has a call-out system that can respond to several boats as required. As a ship-handling tug, SST Capilano can be operated with two crewmembers under Transport Canada Regulations. 

As a result, SST Capilano was built as a day boat. The wheelhouse includes table and settee, a basic “galley” of coffeemaker, sink and microwave. The main deckhouse is a void space. However the tug that is currently under construction to the same design and specifications will include accommodations for a crew of five. 

The wheelhouse of  Capilano gives good visibility to the staple and DMT TW-H300KN single-drum hawser winch loaded with 650 feet of 2.6-inch synthetic line. The other tug is Smit Saba, built in 2009 by Damen Shipyards in Galati, Romania.

“ABD Boats do excellent work. Steve McIlwain digitized his late father Al McIlwain’s design for the Tiger Sun and then ABD prepared CAD cutting files for Portland Steel to do the plasma cutting. You couldn’t fit a thread between the plates,” Armstrong said. 

“Both the SST Capilano and the new boat are classed by Lloyd’s,” he said. “We didn’t have to do this for local work but we are an international company and boats could get moved around. Putting accommodation in one of them just gives us more flexibility.”

By Professional Mariner Staff