“These z-drives have revolutionized towboating,” said Richard Murphy, captain of the 92-foot Gramma Lee T. Moran. Murphy maneuvered his tug alongside the 790-foot containership Nedlloyd Chicago at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in Upper New York Bay. “Z-drives have a big advantage in maneuverability. You can put the boat in almost any position you want and hold it there.”
John Bates, a member of the Metro Pilots Association, stepped from the deck of Gramma Lee onto the ship’s pilot ladder and boarded the ship. Then Murphy eased the tug forward to the ship’s bow, where Tom Rizzo, the mate, and engineer Arlon Feurtado hooked the bowline around a set of bitts recessed in the ship’s side.
“This is a fantastic boat with a lot of power, and she is extremely quick,” Murphy said. “Once you get the hang of the boat, it’s far superior to the conventional twin-screw boats.”
The boat was named in honor or Lee Tregurtha, wife of Moran’s chair and chief executive, Paul Tregurtha, and mother of Moran’s president, Ted Tregurtha.
Gramma Lee T. Moran is a sister vessel of Diane Moran, operating in Savannah, Ga. She was built at Washburn & Doughty in East Boothbay, Maine, and delivered to Moran in June 2002. Two EMD 12-645F7B engines generate 5,100 hp to Ulstein Aquamaster 1650H z-drives, producing 139,000 pounds of bollard pull ahead. The two 99-kw generators are Caterpillar 3304DITs.
Furuno radars and GPS equipment dominate the wheelhouse electronics. Icom supplied the VHF radios. On the foredeck is a Markey hawser winch wrapped with $29,000 worth of lightweight, braided hawser made by Puget Sound Rope.
Murphy, one of two captains assigned to Gramma Lee, is enthusiastic about the render/recovery of the Markey winch. “It’s amazing for ship docking. It automatically pays out or recovers the line. When the pilot calls for us to back away (pay out line), the system doesn’t allow the line to slack. Paying in, it keeps the line clear of the bow, and the tension on the line stays constant. I don’t have to worry about the line pinching between bow and ship, and it saves the deck hands’ hands.”
The Bayonne Bridge arches above Kill Van Kull, the channel separating New Jersey and Staten Island. “The bridge is a little low for the ships now because the loads are getting higher,” said Rizzo, taking his shift at the controls. “Air draft is always a concern under the bridge, so we have to watch the tides.”
The ship cleared with three feet of air between the top of her mast and the underside of the bridge, continued past the Moran office on Staten Island and docked at Howland Hook Terminal.
Right now, Moran has Gramma Lee T. Moran anchoring its New York fleet, augmented by the 110-foot, z-drive tractor Condor, on lease from Seabulk Towing. At any given time McAllister Towing has two to three tractor tugs operating in New York Harbor, depending on the workload. Given their performance to date, it seems inevitable that these two major New York tug companies will increase the number of z-drives operating in their New York fleets.