In 1987, Harley Franco founded Olympic Tug & Barge in Seattle with one leased tug and barge.
Through the years the company grew, and in 1998 Franco formed the holding company Harley Marine Services (HMS), currently with 10 subsidiaries.

From Seattle, Harley Marine Services has spread south to Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles; north to Alaska; east to New York; and in 2011, southeast to the Gulf of Mexico.

Harley Marine Gulf (HMG) was formed after HMS bought MGI of Houston. The new company acquired nine tank and bunker barges in the process, and 800 feet of waterfront in Channelview, Texas, along the Old River. It is a picturesque stretch of riverbank surrounded by an industrial landscape. It is also strategically located just north of where Old River joins the San Jacinto River and the Houston Ship Channel.

The boat was designed to push 230-foot barges.

Initially, HMG bought a 70-foot towboat, Trigger, from Crosby Tugs and two new 76-footers, Scout and Diablo, built by Raymond & Associates in Bayou La Batre, Ala.

The new company began bunkering operations in the Houston Ship Channel. HMG then bought the 65-foot Buttercup to take Scout’s place bunkering in the harbor when Scout began running tank barges up to Chicago. Next HMG contracted Raymond & Associates to build two 85-foot towboats, Duke and Champion, and ordered six 75-foot towboats from Conrad Industries of Morgan City, La.

“We had this design for a 75-foot pushboat that we were going to build on spec,” said Gary Lipely, marketing director for Conrad Industries. “We had some under construction when Harley Marine saw this as a way to get some boats into their fleet quickly.”

In January, HMG was readying Fury, the fifth of its new 75-foot, 2,000-hp towboats from Conrad. Fury was preceded by Thunder, Lightning, Silver and Stardust, and was to be followed this spring by Alamo. Fury’s initial assignment is bunkering in the Houston Ship Channel.

Capt. Ashley Marks. Those piloting the boat like its maneuverability enhanced by the wide placement of the propellers.

HMG also has eight new 30,000-barrel tank barges built at both of the above-mentioned shipyards. An additional four are under construction at Conrad. With this fleet, HMG has expanded its bunkering services from the Houston Ship Channel to include the ports of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Freeport, Texas, and Lake Charles, La. HMG has also expanded its line-haul operations on the inland rivers system.

Scout, Lightning and Duke run up to Wood River, Ill., and back down to Beaumont,” said HMG’s port captain, Steve Estep. “Silver has been up to Catoosa, Okla., and over to Mt. Vernon, W.Va. She’s made a few miles. And Champion is running between Joliet, Ill., and Baton Rouge. At the moment the rest are bunkering.”

In January, at the HMG Channelview yard, Capt. Ashley Marks and tankerman Darryl Calhoun were busy tweaking Fury while waiting for delivery of its bunker barge from Conrad. Both are delighted to have drawn the new boat.


The pilothouse has a 33-foot height of eye.

“One of the best features of the Conrad boats is that they are great at maneuvering and they have great creature comforts,” said Marks. “The living quarters are wonderful for a tug this size, and they (the boats) handle the barges really well and have plenty of horsepower.”

Fury’s rooms, with satellite hookups, and the galley, with all modern appliances, are very nicely finished, spacious and comfortable. The Conrad boats have three full bathrooms with showers.

 “As a boat operator, I can tell you that the full finished master suite means a lot,” said Estep.

Both Marks and Capt. Joe Goette attribute the maneuverability to the placement of the props. Goette was at the helm during sea trials on the Atchafalaya River near Morgan City in December.

“This boat design handles very well,” said Goette. “They turn very well and have plenty of power for this size of boat. The boats are not wider than similar boats, but the wheels are set farther outboard, which gives you more leverage when you’re turning.”

The captain’s master suite has its own head and shower.

The wide placement of the propellers dictates that the Cummins mains be mounted close to the hull in the engine room, but there is still plenty of room to negotiate the machinery.

“We were looking for boats that would handle the 230-foot barges,” said Estep. “And these boats do a fine job of that. I’ve had no complaints as to how they handle.”

The propulsion train begins with a pair of Tier 2, K38-M Cummins engines rated for 1,000 hp at 1,800 rpm, with Twin Disc MGX5321 gears rated at a ratio of 5.96:1. There are two main and four flanking rudders.

The hull contains tanks for 30,000 gallons of fuel, 6,000 gallons of water and 200 gallons of lube oil.

The galley, with its array of appliances and attractive woodwork, has a home-like feel.

On the bow are two Nabrico barge winches, port and starboard, wound with 150 feet of Amsteel Blue face wires.

According to Goette, Fury handles especially well when operating light in a rough sea, because the bow and gunwales are a little higher than usual. “The higher bow and bulwarks enable you to run a lot faster and make better time. It’s a safer arrangement in a rough sea.”

All of the Conrad boats have four decks except Thunder, the first of the series, which has three decks. The result on Fury is a 33-foot height of eye. “I’ve run a bunch of boats, and they’ve never had the eye level that these boats have,” said Marks.

The establishment of Harley Marine Gulf completes the Seattle-based parent company’s steady course from a single tow plying Puget Sound to a multifarious fleet operating a coastal loop around the country and coursing up from the Gulf of Mexico into the inland arteries.

In Puget Sound, HMS has the bulk of the bunkering business. But the company also has an extensive assist and escort tug fleet for its West Coast operations. The company has garnered a number of environmental awards over the years and has a reputation of looking after the comfort of its crews.

“We should be breaking ground on a permanent office building later in the year,” said Estep at the Channelview site. “And we’re putting in 400 feet of bulkhead and a fleeting area along the waterfront. There is room to grow.”

By Professional Mariner Staff