Foss tugs work in unison to assist ro-ro ship at Tacoma


The tugboats Henry Foss and Marshall Foss idled slow bell in the Tacoma, Wash., harbor. The 839-foot TOTE Maritime roll-on/roll-off ship Midnight Sun, arriving from Anchorage, Alaska, rounded Browns Point and entered Commencement Bay. The tugs moved in, running with the ship — Henry near the bow, and Marshall on the port quarter.

Henry Foss, with 2nd Capt. Kent Salo at the helm, hovered the tug’s stern close to the bulbous bow and put the tug’s towline up, center lead forward. Once Marshall put a line up on the port quarter, both tugs ran slack line with the cargo ship. 

Near the mouth of the Blair Waterway, the pilot asked Salo on Henry to take the bow easy to starboard and 2nd Capt. Andy Beeler on Marshall to take the stern easy to port. The tugs turned the ship stern-first and lined up with the waterway, pointing inland to Mount Rainier, which was resplendent in sunlit snow.

Salo shortened up the towline and controlled the bow of the ship at the pilot’s command while Marshall towed Midnight Sun to the TOTE dock. The stern-first maneuver prevented the ship’s propellers from sucking up a profusion of flotsam.

Nearing the berth, the pilot requested that both tugs shorten up and adopt the push/pull position — Henry, slack line and perpendicular 15 feet aft of the bulbous bow, and Marshall, perpendicular under the ship’s port quarter bitt. The pilot directed for push or pull as he lined up the ship for berthing. Once alongside, both tugs held the ship into the dock while its mooring lines were secured.

2nd Capt. Kent Salo handles Voith Schneider and Schottel controls aboard Henry Foss.

The tugs were let go and headed back to the Foss Maritime dock on the Middle Waterway in Tacoma. It is the same location where Andrew Foss founded the company in 1889.

When Henry Foss was built in 1982 by the Tacoma Boatbuilding Co., it was equipped with two 1,500-hp EMDs driving Voith Schneider cycloidal drives. In 2005, Foss, responding to demands for higher bollard pull, reconfigured Henry Foss, Wedell Foss and Brynn Foss as Tractor Plus-class tugs.

The upgrade consisted of the original power train and the addition of a 2,000-hp Cummins-powered Schottel CP ASD. The skeg at the stern was cut to accommodate the z-drive. The reconfiguration increased the bollard pull from 36 tons to 57 tons. There is an Intercon SD-200 towing winch on the stern and an Intercon HSW-40 winch on the bow that is used for barge shifting and fish-boat shifting.

“The ASD unit acts as an active skeg, significantly improving maneuverability along with providing a sizable increase in bollard pull and side thrust,” said Salo. “The tug really shines in allowing the operator to quickly position the tug and get power on for most docking/undocking procedures. This allows the ship pilots to maintain or quickly correct critical ship movements, especially in tight quarters or inclement weather.”


The Henry Foss crew: Capt. Bob Bezona, deckineer Jason Svendsen, chief engineer Carl Balke and Salo.


Balke checks out a 1,500-hp EMD 645-12C main engine.


Henry Foss has Midnight Sun under tow.


Svedsen letting go the line.


A large staple and Intercon SD-200 towing winch are employed on the stern of Henry Foss.


With Mount Rainier in the background, Marshall Foss assists Midnight Sun during docking in the Blair Waterway.


By Professional Mariner Staff